How to Ensure Proper Installation of Window A/C Units
Due to record heat waves set in many areas of the country this summer, you may have noticed an increase in the number of residents installing air conditioners in their windows, especially if your site has no central air conditioning. Unfortunately, residents don't always install them properly. Instead of using secure metal brackets, they may try to secure the units in their windows with bricks or wooden blocks. Not only may improperly installed air conditioners fall out of windows during and after installation, injuring or killing pedestrians and prompting expensive lawsuits against you, improperly secured air conditioners may also damage the building facade, as well as window frames and unit interiors.
Another source of concern arises when residents ask maintenance staff to do the installation for them. As an owner, you may become liable for any injuries caused by a site employee improperly installing a resident's air conditioner. 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 do to protect yourself when dealing with residents who want to install air conditioners in their units.
Require Resident to Use Professional for High-Risk Areas
In the HUD Model Lease, residents agree “not to install a washing machine, clothes dryer, or air conditioning unit in the apartment without the prior approval of the landlord.” If your lease has such a clause, you can deny the resident permission. Or you can give your consent—but only on the condition that the resident hires a professional to install the air conditioner.
In some situations, it may be more prudent to require professional installation of air conditioners, such as for air conditioners in street-facing façades. For example, an improperly secured air conditioner in a street-facing window or debris from loose objects supporting the air conditioner has a higher chance of injuring someone below if either were to fall.
Another benefit of requiring a professional installer is that aside from these general guidelines, there are factors specific to each installation, such as the size and weight of the air conditioner, the width of the window, the depth of the windowsill, the condition of the window frame, whether the unit is installed on the top or at the bottom of the window opening, and how much of the air conditioner extends outside the window.
Give Residents A/C Installation Tips
If you know that residents will be installing their own air conditioners and you can't require them to hire a professional, give them air conditioner installation tips and ask them to follow these tips to ensure proper securement.
Supports. The air conditioner should be braced from underneath with metal brackets, mounting rails, or similar supports, or firmly fastened from inside with supporting angles. The metal brackets and angles should be attached to the exterior of the building and be strong enough to support the size and weight of the unit.
Shims; open window test. Anything used to adjust the position of the air conditioner, such as shims, should be independently secured to prevent shifting caused by vibration, wind, or ice. The air conditioner should remain in place when the window is opened, or secured so that the window cannot be opened accidentally. Tilting the air conditioner for drainage is okay as long as it isn't at a steep angle.
Loose objects. Dangers come not only from an improperly secured air conditioner, but also from any loose objects used to support it. Bricks, wooden blocks, or phone books should never be wedged between an air conditioner and the windowsill. And items such as flower pots, satellite dishes, and bird feeders should not be placed atop an air conditioner.
Getting the Message Across
Although some site owners and managers might prefer to ban air conditioners entirely, it's likely residents would use them in spite of efforts to ban them. As a result, instead of residents trying to rig together a precarious and covert air conditioning solution, it may be more practical to permit the use of air conditioners, but with the above limitations and safety guidance. The smart way to manage those hazards is to educate residents about the issues and to be sure residents are aware of the hazards and remind them on a regular basis.
The HUD Model Lease obligates the owner to “maintain all equipment and appliances in safe and working order” and states that the resident agrees to “use all appliances, fixtures and equipment in a safe manner and only for the purposes for which they are intended.” These references are to such equipment that's present in the unit when the resident leases it. It doesn't refer to personal items such as air conditioners that a resident might purchase after he or she has moved in.
“Obviously, if the A/C units are installed in violation of the local fire code, management should require their removal. But in other cases, where a resident installs a window A/C unit that doesn't violate the local code, the requirements relative to such installation should be outlined in house rules for the site,” says management expert A.J. Johnson. HUD Handbook 4350.3, Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Programs, Paragraph 6-9, encourages the use of house rules to identify “allowable and prohibited activities” that are “related to the safety, care, and cleanliness of the building or the safety and comfort of residents.” House rules are always presented as an attachment to the main lease, and they never replace the lease.
While house rules are an approach that's useful for conveying the importance of the safe usage of devices and appliances, it should not be the only method. “In addition to outlining the requirements in such rules, management also should review the requirements during resident meetings, through mailbox flyers, and in newsletters if you have one,” says Johnson. Resident meetings are an effective way to get the safety point across and to remind residents of their personal role in helping to prevent problems. The bottom line is to deliver the safety message over and over again.
Bar Employees from Installing A/Cs for Residents
If you allow an employee to install or remove an air conditioner for a resident, you open yourself up to lawsuits if something goes wrong. Once he undertakes such a task, he's expected to do it right. And one error could result in your having to pay for any accident caused by the employee's negligence.
To avoid this problem, bar all site employees from installing or removing any air conditioners for residents. Give them a written notice, like our Model Notice: Tell Employees Not to Install Air Conditioners. The notice should tell them that air conditioner installation and removal is outside the scope of their employment.
The employee should acknowledge receiving the notice. By taking this precaution, 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.
A.J. Johnson, HCCP: President, A.J. Johnson Consulting Services, Inc., 3521 Frances Berkeley, Williamsburg, VA 23188; www.ajjcs.net.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Tell Employees Not to Install Air Conditioners|
|Adopt House Rules on Safe Use and Proper Installation of A/Cs|