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Oregon bill passed after deadly heat wave protects portable AC units, but not all types

SB 1536 passed after last summer's deadly heat dome event, but it appears to fall short of protecting the use of window AC units.

SALEM, Ore. — As climate change brings more frequent heat waves to the Pacific Northwest, air conditioning has become a necessity — especially when temperatures exceed 90 degrees for days on end.

About 100 Oregonians died during a heat dome event in June of 2021 when temperatures in Portland topped out at 116 degrees. The vast majority of those people did not have AC. 

It was that event that motivated Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty to start pushing for legislation that would prevent landlords from banning portable AC units. She worked with lawmakers to get Senate Bill 1536 passed into law. 

"You now have protection in Oregon during a heat emergency to be able to install portable air conditioning units. That's a huge, meaningful first step towards action, and I want people to know that you have the right to install it as long as it doesn't create a life, limb or safety issue for those around you," Mayor Beaty said.

While SB 1536 starts by saying landlords cannot ban or restrict tenants from using a portable cooling device of their choice, tenants at a low-income apartment complex in Newberg received eviction notices this month for having window AC units installed in their homes. 

RELATED: ‘It’s horrible’: Tenants face eviction over window AC units at a low-income housing complex in Newberg

If you read the fine print of SB 1536, the law includes a lot of exceptions that allow landlords to restrict window AC units. 

Under section 2, it says a landlord may not prohibit a portable AC unit unless it violates building codes or state or federal law. In the case of the Newberg apartment complex, the Yamhill County Housing Authority is arguing that the window units are a fire safety hazard that violate federal building standards. 

The law also includes an exception that can prohibit an AC unit if installing it would damage the premises or render it uninhabitable. 

Another exception is if an AC unit "requires the use of brackets or other hardware that would damage or void the warranty of a window or frame, puncture the envelope of the building or otherwise cause significant damage."

RELATED: 'It feels like we didn't matter': Extreme heat raises questions over bans on window AC units

In other words, it would be nearly impossible to get away with installing a window AC unit without it falling under one of these exceptions.

It seems the only type of air conditioner people could get away with would be a rolling floor unit that vents hot air out of the window. A quick check on Home Depot's website found the lowest cost for one of these units at least $100 more than the cheapest window unit. 

Mayor Beaty said if you want to install a window unit in Oregon, it's best to start by talking with your landlord. 

"Maybe starting with your landlord understanding that Senate Bill 1536 was passed and having a meaningful dialogue on what that means is the right first step to go," she said. "Sometimes when these rules go into effect, not everyone is aware of them right away. So, starting with the option of just talking with them about this and what it means to your apartment complex."

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