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Can my landlord make me pay a surcharge for my A/C unit—even if I already pay the electric?

By Virginia K. Smith | August 3, 2016 - 1:45PM 
Question:

I recently moved to a new building, and the landlord informed me that if I planned to use a window air-conditioner in the summer months (my own that I provide), I would have to pay a fee of $120 each year. He said it's to cover the strain on the building's electrical system that a window A/C unit would cause. I pay my own electric bills, so I don't understand how this even makes sense—or if it's legal to charge me extra to use my own air conditioner, and for which I pay the electric bill.

Answer:

Whether your landlord's air-conditioning surcharge is legitimate will largely depend on the terms of your lease, and whether or not you're rent-stabilized, say our experts.

"If it's a market-rate tenancy and the lease doesn't restrict air conditioners, then you can have one and the landlord cannot increase your rent," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. "But if the lease says you can't have A/C, then you can't have it." Either that, or you'll end up negotiating and paying a fee in exchange for the landlord allowing you to install an A/C in spite of the restrictions in the lease.

For rent-stabilized apartments, the rules are a little different (and you can find a full rundown here). In buildings where the cost of electric is rolled into the rent, the landlord can add a surcharge that's pre-determined by the Rent Guidelines Board each year. (This year, it's $27.89 per month.) 

But in your case—where a tenant pays their own electric bills and brings in the A/C unit on their own–the landlord is limited to a $5 per month air conditioner surcharge, as outlined in state guidelines here. (And in that case, once you've installed the air-conditioner, you won't be able to remove the unit and stop paying the surcharge without your landlord's permission.)

Bottom line: Check into the terms of your lease, and you'll know whether or not you've got room to push back against this new fee.

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