Ontario Human Rights Commission calls on Ford government to make air conditioning a ‘vital service’

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is calling on the Ford government to make air conditioning a vital service in order to protect vulnerable tenants against threats of eviction for installing and using air conditioning units.

In a statement issued Friday, the OHRC calls access to cooling during extreme heat waves “a human rights issue,” and that tenants with medical conditions that are affected by extreme heat have a right to accommodation without discrimination in housing based on Code grounds.

The Commission noted a “concerning trend” of housing providers denying tenants’ ability to install air conditioning units while threatening rent increases or eviction, or both.

“Any situation where a housing provider issues a complete ban on air conditioners and cooling devices without exceptions likely violates the Code and could lead to a human rights complaint,” the OHRC statement reads.

Earlier this month, CityNews spoke with one of several tenants at 130 Jameson Avenue who was given an eviction notice back in June for having an air conditioning unit installed. The tenants were told to remove the units, pay the landlord for hydro use or vacate the building.

“Some of them took them out. Some of them are too scared to turn them on,” said Cindy Therrien who suffers from diabetes and struggles during extremely warm days. “But we were told by the community group use your air conditioner. Don’t put your health at risk.”

The OHRC says as the number of extreme heat waves increases, the right to accessible, adequate and safe housing should include air conditioning and that blanket bans on air conditioners should be removed by landlords.

Under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, tenants must have access to vital services such as heat, hot and cold water, electricity and fuel (such as natural gas). A landlord cannot shut off these services, even if a tenant has not paid their rent. Air conditioning is not included as a vital service under the Act.

Current RTA regulations mandate that housing which has central air conditioning must maintain a maximum temperature of 26 C between June and September.

Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell says in light of the Commission’s decision, she plans to re-table her motion to amend the RTA to include a maximum temperature limit.

It’s estimated that 500,000 people in Toronto apartments are living with no air conditioning. While there is a city bylaw that says landlords must keep temperatures at a minimum 21 C during winter, no such rule exists in the summer for keeping spaces cool.

Last month, a review of Toronto’s heat relief strategy was brought up at City Hall. One of the recommendations that was brought forth was a possible subsidy program for air conditioning or fans for low-income residents in the city. In the end it was decided it would only be considered as part of future changes.

Files from Mark McAllister were used in this report

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