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Spokane codifies tenants’ right to air-conditioning

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(The Center Square) – Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown signed the city council’s “Heat, Health and Safety Ordinance” on Friday, codifying a tenant’s right to air conditioning.

The renter protection measure sponsored by Councilmember Kitty Klitzke and Council President Betsy Wilkerson almost entirely guarantees a tenant’s right to air conditioning. Whether hot or cold, the tenant controls the temperature.

Klitzke and Wilkerson’s ordinance is based on Oregon’s Senate Bill 1536, which prohibits landlords from restricting portable cooling devices. However, Spokane’s version goes a step further and provides that the ordinance applies year-round instead of only during the summer.

“This legislation is critically important for our community as we face the reality of extreme heat every summer,” Brown said on Friday. “The ordinance will ensure that people have access to air conditioning and, by doing so, will provide both comfort and save lives.”

Previously, Sarah Nuss, director of Spokane’s Office of Emergency Management, cited the 2021 heat dome as a factor in advancing the ordinance. She said that out of the 19 people who died in the county due to the extreme heat, the majority were housed and not experiencing homelessness.

During Friday’s press conference, Wilkerson said this ordinance likely could have saved many of those lives.

“We had set up cooling centers and they were in certain parts of the city, but for people who couldn’t get to the cooling centers, we were missing the boat,” Wilkerson said. “We need to look at how we can help people stay cool in their homes, not just for our elderly, but people with children or people who like transportation. It just makes good policy, and it makes good sense.”

The only exceptions to the ordinance are if an air-conditioning device causes “unreasonable” damage or requires “excessive” brackets to mount or install despite the measure not defining either term.

However, under the ordinance, landlords can require that only they install, remove or inspect their tenants’ air conditioning units. This may leave room for a potential challenge in the future if a landlord puts off installing a unit by suggesting it causes “unreasonable” damage or requires “excessive” brackets.

The ordinance will take effect in mid-July as Spokane enters its hottest part of the year.

“We’ve had heat deaths when we have heat domes that happen in our community,” Klitzke said. “Climate change is affecting the most vulnerable people in our community first, so [this is] an important step to bring justice to our efforts.”

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