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N.H. doesn't set a maximum temperature for rental housing. Where does that leave tenants during a heat wave?

Emily Negron, from Puerto Rico, says she doesn't have much money to install an air conditioner but would search for one high and low if she got the green light from her landlord.
Gaby Lozada
Emily Negron, from Puerto Rico, said she doesn't have much money to install an air conditioner. But if her landlord gives her the green light to install one, she said she would search high and low.

There are three windows in Emily Negron’s Manchester apartment, and she keeps them all open — hoping the wind will help bring down the temperature. Still, the place feels humid and hot.

Negron knew there was no air conditioning when she moved in two months ago, but she took the apartment anyway because it fit her budget. To deal with this summer's heat, she’s been drinking extra water and cooling off by opening the door of her fridge. She also has a fan.

But with this week’s heat wave, Negron worries that won’t be enough — especially at night. She hopes to speak to her landlord soon about the possibility of installing an air conditioner or doing something else to cool things down.

“It’s too hot in here,” she said.

Read more: How to stay safe during the latest heat wave in N.H.

New Hampshire's statewide housing standards require landlords to provide adequate heat, but that law is silent when it comes to air conditioning. Even so, a housing rights advocate with603 Legal Aid said tenants who don’t have air conditioning have the right to put a unit in.

Steve McGilvary, a housing paralegal at 603 Legal Aid, said tenants are protected by a state law that guarantees a “right to quiet enjoyment.” Under that provision, he said, tenants are allowed to install an air conditioning unit in their homes if it is necessary to mitigate high temperatures.

“If the landlord refuses, they are violating the tenant’s right,” he said.

If a tenant runs into resistance from their landlord, McGilvary said they can file a540-a petition in their local district court and ask a judge to weigh in. In court, he said, landlords can be fined up to $1,000 per day if they are found to be in violation of the law.

“It would ultimately be up to the judge to decide whether the tenant had a right to this particular remedy to bring the temperature down,” he said.

In some cases, McGilvary said, landlords forbid tenants from installing air conditioning units in their homes. He said many tenants do not know that is illegal.

If a tenant is dealing with an uncomfortably hot apartment, McGilvary said they should try talking to their landlord first before pursuing other remedies in court.

“Many tenants are afraid they could be facing eviction if they speak, but sometimes all they have to do is communicate with [their landlord],” he said. “It is not just a matter of comfort, it could be a matter of life and death.”

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.

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