Finding it a bit steamy this summer? You’re not alone. Across Canada, people say they are really feeling the heat, especially in their homes. And we’re tracking it. CBC teams have installed temperature and humidity sensors in dozens of homes in several cities, including Windsor, Ont., to see just what happens to people when things go from hot to sizzling to seriously dangerous. This is one of those stories.
Trade sunbathing, sweet treats and cooling off indoors with vertigo, migraines, and insomnia.
Those are the signs of summer for Windsor’s Jessica Mailloux-Lesperance, who was forced to remove her air conditioning last spring and could not afford a replacement.
It’s a situation a lot of households in Ontario may face if they live in a multiple-storey residence, due to new housing legislation introduced in Toronto in 2019. For Mailloux-Lesperance, that means contending with several health concerns.
“I get overheated very easily, so I’m prone to passing out in the heat,” she said. Her kitchen is muggy and hot, despite being on the basement level of a 1920s heritage building.
“It is very hard. I had insomnia [last year] for most of the summer because of how hot I was. My migraines and vertigo were through the roof. I was in bed a lot through most of the summer.”
When Mailloux-Lesperance moved into her apartment with her husband James and cat Spook, they had a window unit for air conditioning. In the spring of 2022, they received a letter informing them that the unit had to be removed.
In 2019, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) started removing units like the one Mailloux-Lesperance used to have, after an improperly installed wall AC caused the death of a toddler. The decision has led many Ontario landlords to follow suit. Mailloux-Lesperance, however, lives on the basement level.
“I can understand the safety of other units, higher up, but we’re on the ground floor,” she said. “So it kind of didn’t make any sense to me.”
After complying with the new change and removing the window unit, Mailloux-Lesperance reached out to her property management to ask for help.
“They wanted us to go out and replace the [wall units] with portable air conditioners, [or] the ones with the hose that goes through the window,” Mailloux-Lesperance said. “Those can run anywhere from between $300 to $1,000 depending on what you need and what you want. And we have a big apartment.”
Mailloux-Lesperance’s property management sent out a letter offering help to those who might need it. In a written statement provided to CBC News, Skyline Living explained the offering.
“Knowing that the purchase of a new air conditioner is not something all of our tenants were prepared for, we put a plan in place to provide financial assistance for tenants that need it,” it says.
“[W]e have provided financial support to tenants to purchase new air conditioner units. In some cases, that means we fully purchase the unit for a tenant, while in other cases, we purchase the unit, and the tenant pays the amount back through a monthly payment plan.”
Mailloux-Lesperance says she has not heard back since last year about how she might get that help.
Skyline Living confirmed the decision to remove units was tied to safety risks.
“After hearing many stories about severe injuries, and in some cases death, from falling units, we decided to remove window air conditioners from all of our properties in 2022,” the company said.
“At the same time, living in a hot and uncomfortable home during the summer months can be challenging, especially for some of our more vulnerable tenants.”
Mailloux-Lesperance said she feels “really let down by the property manager.”
“We have seniors in the building, we have lower income people in this building. We all can’t afford brand new air conditioners. So we are all warm.”
Climate Dashboard | CBC News
Some units in Mailloux-Lesperance’s building do appear to have window units still installed, despite the warning. She fears notices, fines and eventually eviction, and says she would just rather “grin and bear it.”
“For people like us, these window air conditioners were the only thing that’s keeping us from dealing with the humidity and the heat. And now they’ve taken that away from us,” she said. “So it kind of feels like an infringement on our human rights, essentially.”
Other property management companies in Windsor will charge tenants hundreds of dollars to run air conditioning, an added cost when considering a new unit and increased hydro bills.
Affordability is a major contributor to not having access to livable temperatures.
Anna Angelidis works with Keep the Heat, a Windsor-based program that helps low-income families pay a portion of their utility bills. In the past, Keep the Heat has encouraged its clients to negotiate with their landlords to see if there is a possibility of saving on some of those costs.
“If they maintain their unit in good condition, if they are paying their rent on time, perhaps their landlord would be able to reduce those monthly additional charges,” Angelidis said.
“Without additional government support, it’s very challenging. Even buying that unit for the window sleeve, it is quite expensive.”
Mailloux-Lesperance continues to do her best despite the situation.
“Basically, fans are where it’s at,” she said.
Mailloux-Lesperance has agreed to participate in CBC’s Urban Heat Project this summer, hoping she can help bring awareness about her situation and find a solution for others like her.
During the project so far, while her unit has maintained consistent temperatures, the humidity has gone as high as 77 per cent, which she says can impact her overall health while suffering with vertigo and migraines.
Throughout the summer, CBC News will continue to share stories from families who agreed to take part in our Urban Heat Project in Windsor.