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Proposed ordinance aims to ensure Spokane tenants’ right to air conditioning

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(The Center Square) – Spokane is expanding renter protections again, this time with an ordinance that could ensure a tenant’s right to air conditioning.

Last month, the City Council joined other municipalities by passing an ordinance that increased the notice period before raising rent to a minimum of 120 days. Now, an ordinance proposed by Council President Betsy Wilkerson takes a step further.

If passed, the Heat Health & Safety Ordinance would guarantee a tenant’s right to install and use a “portable cooling device” of their choice, provided that its use does not violate building code or damage the premises and follows state and federal law.

“We all know that extreme heat causes death,” said Sarah Nuss, director of Emergency Management, during the ordinance’s first reading at the City Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee meeting on Monday.

Nuss continued that most deaths recorded during the region’s 2021 heat dome were housed individuals, not people living on the street. She said this ordinance could help increase access to people without air conditioning already built into their dwellings.

An anti-retaliation clause also prohibits landlords from behavior that may “intimidate any person because that person is engaging in activities designed to make other persons aware of, or encouraging such other persons to exercise rights granted or protected by the fair housing laws, or engaging in political speech or political organizing,” according to the proposed ordinance.

Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in the termination of a rental agreement and potentially civil action if a person was injured due to a violation, according to the details.

Councilmember Jonathan Bingle said he was shocked to learn that this is not already a basic right for renters. He questioned whether the ordinance aims to fix that specific issue or do more than is being led.

Nuss responded that the ordinance is based on Oregon’s Senate Bill 1536, which prohibits landlords from restricting tenants’ use of portable cooling devices. She said it provides that if a tenant does not currently have a cooling device, the landlord should not prevent the future use of one.

“We’re not looking to put emphasis on landlords to be able to manage this,” Nuss said, “it’s more making sure that the tenant has access to something that isn’t built into that living space already.”

Like Bingle, Councilmember Michael Cathcart said he had never heard of a lease agreement banning the use of cooling devices. His only issue was with utility payments.

“If you were to really increase the energy usage and then that tenant doesn’t follow through and pay their bill,” Cathcart said, “at the end of the day, it’s that landlord that will have to pay that.