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The rental housing sector faces more challenges than nearly any other sector when it comes to improving efficiency, affordability, and sustainability. Below, the RentLab team has assembled a wide range of resources to help our partner communities strengthen their efforts to make rental housing better.  

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The latest in the rental housing sector


In this section, we track recent developments in rental housing news and policy.  Check back for frequent updates.

Zillow to list housing discrimination protections in app

Making buildings better while keeping housing affordable: 2020 ACEEE report

The challenge facing gas bans

Lisbon's plan to reclaim housing from AirBnB: The city's intervention to fill empty short-term rentals generates income for landlords, housing for permanent residents, and a reinvestment in resident-oriented businesses

Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing: 2020 report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition showing that minimum wage workers (still) cannot afford rent in any US state

GAO report: As more households rent, the poorest face affordability and housing quality challenges

Canadian federal government considers buying distressed building stock to preserve affordable housing

AirBnB drops lawsuit against NYC over data-sharing requirements

Recovery: COVID and racial justice resources

COVID resources

Organizing resources for tenants (tenant unions, etc.)

Advice on shopping for apartments and keeping utilities affordable:


How to negotiate rent with your landlord

National Housing Law Project resources for renters and homeowners

Fannie Mae renter resources

Housing & Urban Development resources for renters

See also our Tools for Tenants page for more information

data transparency

The impact and findings of data transparency policies

Energy disclosure requirements and other data transparency efforts have had varied impacts on building efficiency.  Study findings are summarized in brief below.

Impacts on Energy Use

Portland, OR 2018 benchmarking policy summary report: benchmarked buildings have shown a 3.5% decrease in energy use per square foot since data was first reported, with some building types (grocery stores, strip malls) showing declines in energy use of more than 10 percent.

Seattle 2016 benchmarking policy summary report: Seattle likewise saw a decline in energy use per square foot of close to 4%, with some sectors seeing declines of 7 percent.  

Review of benchmarking and disclosure ordinances (2016): Concerns, strategies, and outcomes of disclosure and benchmarking in eight cities.  As of 2016, findings include EUIs 2.4 to 7 times higher in the worst-performing buildings, even within the same building class; better or equivalent performance by older buildings when compared to newer buildings; and a statistically significant reduction in utility costs of 3 percent per square foot.

Overview of benchmarking and disclosure policy characteristics and impacts (Lawrence Berkeley Labs, 2017): Finds reductions in energy use, costs, or EUI ranging from 1.6 to 14 percent across cities, with most cities seeing reductions between 3 to 8 percent.

Relationship between Energy Use and Building Age

Earlier findings (also here) from Portland's program found that building age was not a clear determinant of energy performance.  Seattle saw a similarly complex relationship between building age and efficiency (see here and here) as did Philadelphia here.


Rental efficiency programs, policies, and tools

Literature review of the benefits of linking energy efficiency and health interventions to amplify non-energy benefits: 2016 ACEEE study

The Business Case for Energy Efficiency in Buildings: Great report from the City Energy Project with concrete insights from practitioners in the multi-family sector and beyond

Multi-family housing: A $3.4 billion energy efficiency opportunity: Summary of a 2013 ACEEE report, including 9 strategies and a link to the original report. 

Better Rentals, Better City: Describes the benefits of minimum efficiency standards for rentals, profiles the City of Boulder’s pioneering implementation of this policy approach, and describes how other cities can implement such a policy.

  • Rental Toolkit to guide implementation of minimum energy standards for rentals

Energy Star for Existing MultiFamily Housing

Energy Efficiency in Affordable Housing: EPA Guide for Local Governments (2018): See pp6-8 for a comprehensive list of Energy Star resources; extensive case study examples listed throughout

Fannie Mae Green Financing for Multifamily and Cooperative Housing

Heat Pump Retrofit Strategies for Multifamily Buildings (2019): Prepared for the Natural Resources Defense Council as a strategy for electrification


Rental housing efficiency: research findings

For an in-depth overview of the challenges in making rental housing more efficient, see here.

How high are household energy burdens? (ACEEE report): the median renter energy burden is 13% higher than the median owner. The median energy burden for Black households is 43% higher than for non-Hispanic white households.  Weatherization could cut household energy burdens by 25%.

Energy efficiency and its relationship to household income in multifamily rental housing: Multifamily rental housing expends 37% more energy per square foot than owner-occupied multifamily housing, 41% more than single-family renter-occupied homes, and 76% more than single-family detached owner-occupied homes. In 2009, multifamily rentals averaged 34% fewer energy efficiency features than the number found in other types of housing.

HomeRx: Health Benefits of Home Performance: Better Buildings Solutions Center

Preserving affordable housing via energy efficiency: Using market segmentation to identify opportunities for efficiency

Does green pay off?   Based on an evaluation of LEED- and Energy-Star-certified commercial buildings, the authors conclude that green investments do pay off.  

Rental housing: Basics


Data resources

data resources

Duke University Energy Initiative: links to a bazillion data resources, from utility rate and climate databases to renewable energy databases to building-level energy consumption data.

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