New law to help get A/C units into apartments backfires for some renters

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 11:14 PM PDT
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NEWBERG, Ore. (KPTV) - A new law that is supposed to be easier for renters to have air conditioning units in their apartments is making it tougher for some tenants in a Newberg affordable housing complex.

Haworth Terrace apartments off Haworth Avenue houses many community members below the poverty line. At the beginning of the summer, the Housing Authority of Yamhill County, the agency that runs the complex, notified tenants that window air conditioning units would no longer be allowed, shocking people like Mary McGrew who’s lived in her two-bedroom apartment for half a decade.

“All of a sudden for some reason, at the end of May, they said no more A/C’s,” McGrew said.

She said her window A/C unit has never been a problem until this year. Confused, she and some of her neighbors contacted the Housing Authority of Yamhill County. McGrew and the two other women FOX 12 spoke with, said they reminded the agency of their special window A/C accommodations for their disabilities.

“When I took it into the office she tossed it across the desk back at me and said this doesn’t matter,” McGrew said.

“Yep that’s what she told me, they don’t matter anymore,” Margaret Smith said.

“I said I’m sorry I’m going to have to fight this. This is ridiculous,” McGrew said.

Fighting the new policy turned into eviction notices if they didn’t comply. A notice that all three tenants received.

“I’m scared to death, I really am,” Holli Lee said. “I had to get rid of the air conditioner and suffer it out because at the end of the day I’m not going to risk losing my housing.”

Senate Bill 1536 was passed this year to loosen restrictions on air conditioning units in apartments. But the broad language in the law allows landlords to ban window A/C units for numerous reasons. For example, landlords and property managers can ban those units if they can damage buildings, cause safety issues, or block necessary access from the apartment. All of which hasn’t been a problem at the Haworth Terrace apartments until Senate Bill 1536 became law. In fact, there are already structures in place on the exterior of apartment units to hold a window A/C unit.

“For all the trouble we go through to pass this legislation and there are too many loopholes and ridiculous loopholes for it to be effective,” McGrew said,

Vickie Ybarguen, executive director of the Housing Authority of Yamhill County sent FOX 12 a statement explaining the agency’s decision to ban window a/c units:

For certain units where AC window units pose a health and safety risk, we have requested that residents replace their units with an AC floor unit that does not pose a health and safety risk.

We have been attempting to work with our tenants to find solutions to their cooling needs while at the same time complying with the federal Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) building standards, which we are legally required to comply with. Our governing agency recently notified us that we were out of compliance with the HUD standards for units that had AC window units blocking the only secondary means of egress from rooms. For households in which their window unit prevents egress, this violation was deemed an “Exigent Health and Safety deficiency” under HUD’s standards requiring immediate correction. As a result, HAYC immediately notified tenants that they would need to remove their window units but could still use an air conditioning floor unit. These rules are also consistent with Oregon’s permissible rules under SB 1536. For any residents who have not complied with HUD’s rules, we have continued to work with them and granted extensions for their time to comply given the heat events we are forecasted to experience.

The safety of our residents is our highest priority and we are simply trying to comply with the laws while ensuring that all health and safety risks are eliminated. We continue to work with our residents and will not be taking any action to enforce the HUD safety standards during this week’s heat event or any other extreme heat event, which is defined as a day on which National Weather Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted or indicated that there exists a heat index of extreme caution for the county.

In addition, we are in contact with other organizations in an attempt to determine whether we can obtain floor AC units at little to no cost, whether through the Oregon Health Authority, Energy Trust of Oregon, or any other potential source of funding.

For certain units where AC window units pose a health and safety risk, we have requested that residents replace their units with an AC floor unit that does not pose a health and safety risk.

We have been attempting to work with our tenants to find solutions to their cooling needs while at the same time complying with the federal Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) building standards, which we are legally required to comply with. Our governing agency recently notified us that we were out of compliance with the HUD standards for units that had AC window units blocking the only secondary means of egress from rooms. For households in which their window unit prevents egress, this violation was deemed an “Exigent Health and Safety deficiency” under HUD’s standards requiring immediate correction. As a result, HAYC immediately notified tenants that they would need to remove their window units but could still use an air conditioning floor unit. These rules are also consistent with Oregon’s permissible rules under SB 1536. For any residents who have not complied with HUD’s rules, we have continued to work with them and granted extensions for their time to comply given the heat events we are forecasted to experience.

The safety of our residents is our highest priority and we are simply trying to comply with the laws while ensuring that all health and safety risks are eliminated. We continue to work with our residents and will not be taking any action to enforce the HUD safety standards during this week’s heat event or any other extreme heat event, which is defined as a day on which National Weather Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted or indicated that there exists a heat index of extreme caution for the county.

In addition, we are in contact with other organizations in an attempt to determine whether we can obtain floor AC units at little to no cost, whether through the Oregon Health Authority, Energy Trust of Oregon, or any other potential source of funding.

All tenants FOX 12 spoke with who received an eviction notice said they have gotten a lawyer. McGrew said she has more time in her apartment until she has to move at the end of the month. But even if she and her neighbors are forced to leave, trying to battle heat waves will continue.

“This is 2022 and we’re breaking heat records every day,” McGrew said.

“And it’s only going to get worse,” Smith said.