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The Smart Living Score: A semi-technical overview of a rental sustainability rating system

The Smart Living Score is a simplified system to rate the efficiency, sustainability, and affordability of rental housing for use by tenants, landlords, and communities. The objectives of the score are to:

  • Improve public awareness of differences in social and environmental sustainability among different rental properties.

  • Prioritize properties for efficiency or other improvements, within a community or across a portfolio.

  • Identify trends and opportunities within a community for targeted programs (such as heat pump upgrades in all-electric buildings with aging HVAC equipment, or solar installations).

  • Bolster insights from energy benchmarking data or other building performance programs with information about overall environmental and social equity features.

As used by RentLab, the full expression of the score included ratings from 1-100, but the maximum possible score may be less in some communities depending on the types of data available. RentLab is no longer active as of Fall 2023, but lessons from the effort could still have a positive impact on rental sustainability.

Data sources

The Smart Living Score (“Score”) is calculated using an array of data from public and online sources. The Score is intended to provide insights in every community, even those with limited data sets.

Data sources may include:

  • County assessor data

  • Municipal rental databases (typically associated with municipal rental inspection programs)

  • Scraped data from online rental listings or property websites

  • Building permit data

  • Walk Score data

  • Green Building Registry, USGBC, and Energy Star data

  • Utility or benchmarking data

Elements of the Score

Sustainability includes economic, social, and environmental factors, and the Smart Living Score aims to reflect each of these. The Score also includes “custom points” to reflect community priorities or programs, and “transparency points” to reward data sharing above and beyond what is required.

See Table 1 for a complete overview of the elements of the Smart Living Score. Please note that data sources for all components could be supplemented by crowdsourcing information from landlords or tenants.

If you would like to learn more about the Score, explore opportunities to use elements of the Score in your programs, or have other needs or questions, please contact us at

Table 1: Components of the Smart Living Score

Table 2: Living space per person score

Table 3: Utility bill structure score

Table 4: Asset score (based largely on Dubuque rental inspection data)

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