Updated: Nov 22, 2022
No city is going to solve climate change without solving climate change in the rental housing market. Yet the rental housing sector continues to be an obstacle for cities pursuing ambitious carbon neutrality and housing accessibility goals.
The “split incentive” problem creates barriers to both efficiency and affordability: when tenants pay the utility bills, landlords have no incentive to make efficiency investments; when landlords pay the utility bills, tenants have no incentive to conserve. This leaves communities with either more efficient buildings, or more efficient behavior, but rarely both.
RentLab directly addresses sustainability and efficiency in the rental sector through rental housing sustainability ratings and analytical tools. RentLab’s services are eligible for funding through the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), expected to formally (re)launch this fall. Specifically, RentLab advances the energy efficiency and climate impact goals of the EECBG program in the following eligible categories:
Public education and awareness - RentLab brings clear, simple-to-understand information about basic efficiency and sustainability to tenants seeking housing, and enables landlords to better compare properties within and beyond their portfolio, and to make informed decisions about investments.
Compliance with Justice40 requirements: in many cities, rentals house the lower-income, marginalized populations that are the target of this directive. Ensuring that rental populations have access to more complete information about efficiency across different housing options reduces vulnerability to utility bill shocks that can destabilize low-income households. RentLab’s Smart Living Score also reflects how well different rental options meet affordable housing needs and provide alternatives to eviction, bolstering visibility for community-minded landlords.
Retention of technical consultant services to assist in implementation of energy efficiency and conservation goals.
Development and implementation of energy efficiency and conservation programs for buildings and facilities within the jurisdiction of the eligible entity, including:
Design and operation of the programs
Measurement and verification protocols
In particular, the RentLab platform can be used to build awareness of, participation in, and impact of other EECBG funding by creating positive visibility for buildings that opt into audit, upgrade, or incentive programs, make efficiency investments, or improve recycling programs.
RentLab’s scoring tools track recycling and waste management practices, walkability, and other sustainability features in addition to energy efficiency, creating opportunities to build awareness around the material conservation and transportation efficiency goals of the program.
Development and implementation of building codes and inspection services to promote building energy efficiency: One RentLab community is using the RentLab platform to display efficiency information gathered during regular rental inspections.
A multi-city launch of the platform (across a state or across peer cities, for example) could enable cross-pollination of public awareness, messaging, materials, and programs, as well as a cost-savings for launching at a larger scale.
Cities that either 1) have a population of more than 35,000 or 2) are among the largest 10 cities in their state will receive EECBG funding directly from the federal government. Cities and towns that do not meet those criteria will need to work with their state energy offices to apply for funding.
For more information, see here.
What is RentLab?
RentLab was built by cities for cities. RentLab is the brainchild of 14 US cities focused on tackling barriers to sustainability in rental housing with early investments from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.
RentLab tackles market failures in the rental sector in several ways:
The map-based public platform enables tenants to evaluate rental housing options based on complete information to reduce utility bill surprises and select properties that conform with their values. The platform is available here.
The public platform, combined with fee-based property evaluation services and support, enables landlords and property managers to compare their properties, prioritize key efficiency and sustainability investments, gain positive visibility and marketability, and retain tenants.
Community-scale analysis of public and crowdsourced data enables cities to strategically target resources and programs to address particular neighborhoods or housing types for maximum impact.
Providing communities, landlords, and tenants access to a library of outreach materials, messaging, and tools to raise awareness, improve communication, and otherwise support sustainability goals in the rental sector.