This week’s question comes to us from Emma in Ottawa. Emma asks:
As a renter, what can I do to improve the resiliency and energy efficiency of my home, when I depend on my landlord to implement the needed refurbishments?
A few weeks ago we looked at how renters are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts like extreme heat. So how can renters prepare their homes to face these challenges, use less energy and save on bills, when their landlords are making the decisions about what upgrades happen and when?
We asked our Climate Solutions Advisor Karen Tam Wu to tell us what renters can do to create a more climate safe, affordable, and energy efficient home.
Our homes and situations can vary quite a bit so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. That said, here are some tips and resources that can help renters protect themselves from dangerous climate impacts and reduce energy usage and costs.
- Understand that you and your landlord may not see things the same way: The “split incentive” barrier refers to the disconnect between landlords and renters regarding energy efficiency and climate-resilience investments. Landlords might not see the value in upgrading their property to be more efficient if their tenants pay the utility bills, while renters may hesitate to invest large sums of money on upgrades for a home they don’t own.
This can be a frustrating challenge, but it can be very important to understand in order to successfully negotiate changes to your home with your landlord.
- Make the case to your landlord: Renters can attempt to build a business case for their landlords. Emphasize how these improvements will not only make for healthier (and potentially longer-term) tenants, but that it will make their property more valuable and attractive to future renters as well. Highlighting the short and long term benefits of making changes can help to overcome barriers with your landlord.
- Offer to split the cost if you can afford to: If your landlord is hesitant and you have the means, propose a cost-sharing option. If you are able to purchase some upgrades outright, see if your landlord might consider a discount on your rent for a period of time to help offset the costs. You should note that depending on the size of the investment (like a heat pump for example, which can be thousands of dollars), you may not entirely recoup your costs while you live there, even with such an agreement in place.
Another option is to tap into the government rebates and tax credits available to help reduce the cost of energy efficient upgrades. Do some research to figure out which ones you might be eligible for (like this option in Canada, or these for U.S. residents)
Highlight these cost savings in addition to the long and short term benefits listed above, and see if your landlord might consider splitting the bill with you – especially if you plan to be in your home for a while.
- The DIY method: If your landlord won’t budge, there are some things you can do on your own to bring down your usage and energy costs, and help make your home more resilient to climate impacts like extreme heat.
Simple practices like unplugging appliances when not in use and line-drying clothes can lead to significant energy savings. Additionally, using weatherstripping on doors, and temperature moderating coverings on your windows can help reduce indoor temperatures and don’t require landlord approval. (For more tips to keep your home cool, see our blog post “Top tips for staying cool and saving lives during a heat wave”)
- Make a move: You may find that you’re looking for a new rental that meets your climate resilience and efficiency needs. If this is the case, there are certain things you can look out for to help you make the right choice.
Ask your landlord questions like, “What kind of energy efficiency measures does this home/building have (e.g. insulation? at least double-paned windows? air sealing?), and, “What heating and cooling systems are in place?” You can also ask for the average monthly utility bills to see what you can expect to be paying.
If you’re lucky, your landlord will understand their responsibility to keep their tenants safe, or at least the financial incentives inherent in energy efficient upgrades. Either way, you deserve to be safe in your home and find ways to reduce your usage. And while there isn’t an easy answer, the steps outlined above will help get you moving in the right direction.
We will be selecting a new question each week so feel free to submit your questions here and we will add them to our list.