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It's easy for tenants to feel there's little you can control when you live in a rental property, but you're more powerful than you know! RentLab focuses on improving transparency in the rental sector for both tenants and landlords, and on empowering you to make changes that will benefit the environment and save you money.

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What to look for in a rental property

What to look for

It's hard to think about all the things you could possibly want to know about a rental home or apartment before you move in, so we've tried to make it simple for you!

RentLab's Smart Living Score is based on a broad array of property features, so you'll be able to tell at a glance how a given property compares. Our Score includes energy and water efficiency, location (walkability, bikeability, greenspace and transit access), waste management practices, social support for struggling tenants (e.g. access to eviction diversion programs) and more. Even if the Score isn't fully built out for a specific property, the Score can provide guidelines on what to ask before signing a lease: 

  • Is recycling easily accessible on the property? Are the bins or dumpsters emptied regularly, or do they routinely fill up?

  • Which utilities am I responsible for and what are the average monthly costs for these utilities?  Some utilities will also provide average monthly costs for any property.

  • How old is the HVAC (furnace and AC) equipment? If the equipment is more than ~15 years old, it may be operating inefficiently and be due for replacement.

  • How well insulated is the property?  For homes and smaller properties, are there at least 12 inches of insulation in the attic?
  • Do the building and the unit have LED (or at least fluorescent) lighting? 

  • Has the building or unit undergone any efficiency upgrades?

  • Does management share information with RentLab?  

  • How big is the unit? Spacious units can seem luxurious, but larger spaces cost more to furnish, heat, and cool.  Instead of size, look more at functionality: Do you have the space you need to live well?

Also be sure to check the property's walkability and any previous tenant reviews (try or another site) you can find.  Take a look at this comprehensive summary too.

what can renters do

What can renters do about sustainability, efficiency, and affordability?

  • You don't have to own your home to be green and save $$$! Visit herehere and here for more info.

  • Add your data to the RentLab website by filling out this form.

  • Reach out to 5 friends who rent and ask them to do the same.

  • Insulating the attic is the #1 thing to do to make a house more efficient.  If yours has less than 12" of insulation, ask your landlord to add more!

  • Contact your local utility to see if there are energy or water assessment or incentive programs that renters are eligible for.

  • If renters aren't eligible for local utility incentive programs, encourage your landlord to participate.

  • Need some guidance for talking to your landlord?  See our tips below.

How to talk to your landlord about energy efficiency

Talk to your landlord

  • First, be a good tenant - you'll have a hard time getting your landlord's attention if you never pay your rent on time, cause maintenance headaches or make repeated non-emergency service requests, or have a poor relationship with your landlord. Good landlords want to keep good tenants around; even landlords that aren't as good know the value of keeping good tenants since they don't incur the costs of turnover. 

  • Do your research - if you have an idea about what could be improved, learn more about costs and what is involved. If there are local rebate or incentive programs to help offset costs (see here for info), gather information on those too.

  • Is the issue one that might be affecting your neighbors too? If so, consider talking to them as well to gauge their interest, perhaps after a conversation with your landlord to let them know you want to explore others' interest in improvements. Don't start with a petition or a protest though! Start with a conversation.

  • If your community or utility offers low-cost energy audits, ask your landlord if they would be willing to cover the cost (usually $100-200), or offer to split it with them. Audits can help you prioritize what needs to be done.

  • Even without an audit, there are certain steps that can be identified as clear priorities: 1) ensuring that there are at least 12 inches of insulation in the attic and 2) ensuring that the crawlspace or basement (including the bandboard) is well insulated.

  • Start with a request for a conversation, not a complaint - e.g. "My apartment has been pretty drafty and that's been problematic since I'm working at home more. Would you be open to talking about some ideas to improve it?" rather than "This apartment is cold and in terrible condition and you need to fix it."

  • Consider offering to sign a longer lease as a condition of getting some improvements made.

  • Consider offering to pay a small premium on your rent each month to help share the cost of the improvement. By splitting it over many months, you'll pay your portion out of the savings you accrue due to lower energy bills. For example, if it costs $800 to blow insulation into the attic, you could agree to cover 1/2 the cost over a 2-year lease, and pay an extra $17/mo - or make an offer that makes sense to you.

  • Offer to help get quotes from contractors for the work that needs to be done.

  • Be flexible on timing, and consider the landlord's schedule when you make your request - if you approach them in the middle of turnover season, or the week they get back from vacation, it might not be the best time.  Let them know you'd like to talk, and give them some time to follow through.

  • Be respectful.

  • Document your communication - it can be helpful if your landlord isn't being responsive, particularly if it's a health and safety issue.

  • Once you come to an agreement, write down the details as you understand them, and ask your landlord to confirm, also in writing - either by responding to an email or signing off on your summary.

Have other ideas, or experiences (good or bad)? Please share them:

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