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Tenants frustrated with central air system down since May

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JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- Frances Pothour points to the temporary air conditioning unit and its hose leading out her living room window Thursday. Pothour sits on her couch, which she said is also doubling as her bed.

Pothour said her living room is the only one in which she can comfortably sleep because every other room has become unbearably warm during the unusually warm stretch southern Wisconsin has experienced during the last two weeks.

"I found I couldn't use my bedroom anymore," Pothour said. "I was really missing that, I mean, because I'm not used to sleeping on my couch."

Pothour lives on the first floor of the Marshall School Apartments, which are in what was originally Janesville High School when it was built between 1919 and 1923. Sawall Properties owns the converted apartment complex, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the building has all the charm one would expect in a 100-year-old building, it also has its challenges, like repairing the central air system that broke in May.

"We called a total of four companies that came and looked at the system," said Jeannine Sawall, the owner of Sawall Properties. "All four gave us the same opinion -- it was a catastrophic failure and it would be a 10-12 week build-up."

Sawall said the company spent more than $20,000 on the purchase of more than 60 portable air conditioning units for the building. Inside Pothour's unit Thursday, she had her portable air conditioner set to 62 degrees. In the living room, where the temporary unit ran, the thermostat read 79 degrees.

"The smaller units they incorporated in the apartment were not adequately doing even the one room," Pothour said. "It became a concern also when you couldn't sleep and use your bedroom."

Wisconsin law does not require landlords to keep apartments cool. According to the Tenant Resource Center, while the state requires landlords to keep units 67 degrees or warmer in the winter, there is no stated temperature for when a home would become unlivable due to heat.

"We are doing everything we can. Is it warm, I get it, it's been 90 degrees," Sawall said. "Even if you have a sleeve air conditioner, they are having a hard time keeping up with things."

Sawall said other tenants have expressed appreciation for the temporary units while the central air repair continues. Resident Mary Ellen Smith said she feels the company has done its part to keep residents cool.

"Portables are not as good as central air but I have air conditioning," Smith said. "And, as a person who has asthma and allergies, I am very grateful for that."

Pothour said she believes it's reasonable to ask the company to install a second temporary unit in tenants' bedrooms. She added temperatures were even warmer on the upper floors as the hot air rises.

"I'd be looking for a motel room to rent by the week if I lived on the third floor," Pothour said.

Sawall said the company is willing to move tenants' temporary air conditioners into their bedrooms if that's what they prefer. She said after replacing a boiler in January, the single portable units were the most she could afford.

"We understand you're warm," Sawall said. "Unfortunately, my prayers for a cold summer were answered with a resounding 'no.'"

A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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