Dos & Don'ts When Dealing with Tenant-Installed Air Conditioners

As summer approaches, many of your tenants may start to install air conditioners in their windows. Or they may ask a super to do the installation for them. But air conditioners that tenants or building employees improperly install or remove may cause you big trouble. They may fall out of windows during or after installation, injuring or killing pedestrians and prompting expensive lawsuits against you. Improperly installed air conditioners may also damage the building facade, as well as window frames and apartment interiors.

As summer approaches, many of your tenants may start to install air conditioners in their windows. Or they may ask a super to do the installation for them. But air conditioners that tenants or building employees improperly install or remove may cause you big trouble. They may fall out of windows during or after installation, injuring or killing pedestrians and prompting expensive lawsuits against you. Improperly installed air conditioners may also damage the building facade, as well as window frames and apartment interiors.

Fortunately, you can take some steps to ensure that air conditioners are properly installed and avoid the risk of lawsuits. We'll tell you what you can and can't do to protect yourself when dealing with tenants who want to install air conditioners in their apartments.

Require Tenant to Use Professional to Install or Remove A/C

You can require the tenant to use a professional to install or remove the air conditioner if you have a clause in your lease either barring the installation of air conditioners altogether or requiring your consent before one is installed. For example, a clause in your lease may require the tenant to get the owner's written consent before the tenant can install various appliances, including air conditioners:

Without Owner's prior written consent, Tenant cannot install or use in the Apartment any of the following: dishwasher machines; clothes washing or drying machines; electric stove; garbage disposal units; heating, ventilating, or air conditioning units; or any other electrical equipment.

If your lease has such a clause, you can deny the tenant permission. Or you can give your consent but only on the condition that the tenant hires a professional to install the air conditioner. Be sure to require the tenant to provide you with a copy of the bill showing the name, address, and phone of the installer on a preprinted bill. If your lease requires you to be reasonable when denying the permission, you should state your reasons if you say no.

If your lease says nothing to limit the tenant's right to install an air conditioner, you'll have a hard time preventing the tenant from installing one unless you can show that the air conditioner will overload the building's electrical wiring. If you can't prevent the tenant from installing the unit, you may want to consider paying personally to have an independent outside contractor install it. You should make sure the contractor's employees have appropriate training and get the contractor to indemnify you for any damage the installation causes. Indemnification means the contractor agrees to reimburse you for the cost of any damages you must pay that result from an improper installation.

Add Clause to Vacancy Leases with Rent-Stabilized Tenants

If you're signing a new lease with a rent-stabilized tenant for a vacant apartment, you can add a clause that requires the tenant to get your consent before installing an air conditioner and that allows you to condition your consent on the tenant's using a professional to install it. Your clause should also require the tenant to indemnify you for any damage the installation causes. For example, your lease clause could say something like this:

Tenant shall not install or remove an air-conditioning unit without first obtaining Landlord's express permission. Landlord's permission, if granted, may be conditioned on, among other things, Tenant's obtaining and paying for professional installation or removal of the air conditioner by competent personnel specifically trained in proper installation and removal of air-conditioning units. Tenant shall indemnify Landlord and hold Landlord harmless from any damage caused to persons or property in connection with performance of any such installation or removal.

You don't have to wait until the next vacancy to add this clause to the lease for an unregulated apartment. You can add it to an unregulated tenant's next renewal lease.

Check that Window Units Are Pitched Properly

All air conditioners must be pitched, or tilted, slightly downward on the outside. This causes the water that the unit accumulates to flow back toward the condenser at the rear of the air conditioner. The condenser then evaporates the water. When an air conditioner is tilted properly, at least 95 percent of the water in the unit should evaporate. There will always be some leaking outside, especially on humid days, but water should not be pouring out.

If a unit is pitched too steeply, too much water will gather at the condenser and not all of it will evaporate. The excess will leak down the side of your building, which can cause stains, bulging, and cracking in the outside wall. And if the air conditioner is tilted upward on the outside, water will flow into the apartment. The resulting water could leak through to the floor below, damaging the ceiling.

Bar Employees from Installing A/Cs for Tenants

You probably don’t want your supers or other employees to install air conditioners to limit your liability in case of incorrect installation and it falls out of the window. Once an employee undertakes such a task, he's expected to do it right. One slipup could result in your having to pay for any accident caused by the employee's negligence.

To avoid this problem, bar all building employees from installing or removing any air conditioners for tenants. By doing so, you may avoid an accident or at least protect yourself from potential liability if the employee later disregards your orders and, lured by a tip, lends a helping hand where he shouldn't.

DOB's Window A/C Installation Guidelines

Tenants don’t need a work permit or equipment use permit to install a common window air conditioner (A/C) unit. The following are the guidelines installers should follow when installing an air conditioner. You can use these guidelines to recognize when an installation is done properly.

  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Make sure the unit is installed securely. Support the unit from underneath, or firmly fasten it from inside with angles. You may use metal brackets, mounting rails, etc.
  • Supporting metal brackets, interior angles, etc. should be structurally fastened to the building and must be strong enough for the size and weight of the A/C unit.
  • Objects or shims used to adjust the position of the A/C unit must have an independent source of fastening or attachment.
  • Secure leveling objects to prevent movement and shifting due to vibrations from the A/C unit, wind and other weather conditions.
  • Install the A/C unit so it remains in place when the window is opened or affix it so that the window can't be opened accidentally.
  • Tilt the unit slightly to provide water drainage, but don't over tilt.
  • Don’t use loose objects—such as wood blocking, bricks, telephone books, gypsum board, or cans—to support the leveling of the A/C unit.
  • Don’t place anything (TV antennae, satellite dishes, plants, etc.) on top of the A/C unit.
  • Don’t block fire escape windows or other exits with the A/C unit.

Air Conditioners in Rent-Stabilized or Rent-Controlled Apartments

With summer fast approaching, people will soon be going to stores to purchase air conditioners. Here are some important things to know surrounding the use of air conditioners in rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments.

Electrical inclusion buildings. In rent-controlled or rent-stabilized buildings where the rent includes the use of electricity, an owner may charge a surcharge for the use of electricity for each air conditioner that has been installed. The charge is to be reviewed on a yearly basis regardless of the length of the lease. 

On Oct. 1 of each year after the air conditioner has been installed the surcharge will be adjusted upward or downward for rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments with electricity included in the rent. Each annual adjustment of this electrical surcharge will be based on the increase or decrease in electrical cost stated in the Price Index of Operating Costs for Rent Stabilized Apartment Houses in New York City. The Price Index is prepared by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, or an independent company chosen by the Board. This annual adjustment applies to air conditioners installed after Oct. 1, 1985.

Electrical exclusion buildings. For rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments that don’t include electricity in the rent, the landlord may collect a maximum of $5 per month for each unit that protrudes beyond the window line. The window line is the outer edge of the window sill. Once installed and after the $5 surcharge has been collected, the tenant may not remove the air conditioner without the owner’s permission and demand that the surcharge be dropped.

Surcharges. An owner must collect the surcharge from a tenant for an air conditioner at the time the unit is initially installed, or within a reasonable period of time after its installation. If the owner doesn’t charge the tenant within a reasonable period of time after the installation, the owner waives the right to collect the surcharge. It remains permanently noncollectible whether there is a transfer of ownership or the tenant replaces the air conditioner in the same location.

For rent-stabilized apartments, where the air conditioner was installed on or after Oct. 1, 1985, the $5 per-month surcharge and the monthly surcharge for electrical inclusion buildings don’t become part of the legal regulated rent for the purpose of computing other rent-stabilized increases. An owner may collect from a rent-stabilized tenant the surcharge for an air conditioner without obtaining a DHCR order.

For rent-controlled apartments, the $5 per-month surcharge and the monthly electrical inclusion surcharge become part of the Maximum Collectible Rent (MCR), but they don’t affect the compounding of the Maximum Base Rent (MBR). However, before collecting either the $5 per-month surcharge or the monthly electrical inclusion surcharge from rent-controlled tenants, the owner must apply to the DHCR for permission to collect the surcharge by filing the DHCR Form RN-79b. Either surcharge may not be collected until the DHCR issues an order authorizing the surcharge.