Dyer: Split incentives: Renters vs. landlords

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

The landlord pays for upgrades to the house or apartment. The renter pays the electric and gas bill. This situation is politely described as “split incentives”. In order to improve energy efficiency in rental housing, the landlord would make an investment but only the renter would benefit from the lower utility bills.

Having been a renter all over North America and a landlord myself, I’m deeply familiar with how the relationship can break down. Landlords have mortgages to pay and updates to appliances or insulation projects eat into the bottom line. On the renter’s side I’ve experienced ignored repair requests and delayed repairs. I’ve rented places with appliances so old they qualify as antiques. Despite these issues, we still need to increase energy efficiency across the board. We cannot ignore the 30 per cent of Canadians who rent. Climate change is upon us, and energy efficiency is the most bang for the buck, so we have to face this problem.

READ MORE: Study says B.C. energy policies hurt low income households

The only way to deal with this efficiently is to place the financial incentive with the landlord. Landlords are business people: they purchase units with an eye on the investment and the rental market and they upgrade their stock to attract higher paying clients. The moment savings from energy efficiency becomes part of their bottom line, it will become a business priority.

READ MORE: Province announces more affordable rental homes for Kelowna

There are two reasons tenants can’t be the pivot point for this problem: the first reason is that landlords don’t want tenants to do anything more than install LED bulbs. The idea of tenants replacing windows or upgrading insulation would put fear in the hearts of their parents….not to mention landlords. The second reason is that, while Canada does have 20 year tenants, many go into the situation with short term goals and stay just 2-3 years. That’s just not enough skin in the game to make investments.

Landlords will have to pay the utilities. Before everyone starts rolling their eyes, the rent should increase by the average utility payment over the last five years. This means that any money saved on energy efficiency goes directly into business profit. But if tenants know they don’t have to pay the electric bill, will they use a lot more energy? Will they leave the heat on and the window open?

If tenants know they don’t have to pay the electric bill, will they use a lot more energy?

There’s a shiny new piece of technology that could make this possible: Home energy monitors.

Because tenants generally pay for utilities, there is a metre for each and every apartment. This metre provides a single point where an inexpensive monitor can be installed. (There are also monitors that can be used for individual fuse boxes — these are ideal for business tenants.) The monitor provides data on energy-use to a website, available to both tenant and landlord. These monitors don’t just know how many kilowatts you use at any given time, they have “appliance tracking”.

These monitors can tell if a renter is using an oven as a source of warmth. They can tell if poor insulation means that baseboard heaters have to kick in twice as often. They can tell if you are using grow lamps…to grow herbs. Landlords can use the information to triage which appliances should be replaced first, schedule insulation work between tenants, and spot bizarre usage.

So let’s shift the burden of energy efficiency to the party who is most invested in the future. Let’s let the landlords make a profit off of energy efficiency. And let’s give Canadian renters the choice to live in an efficient and comfortable home.

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: The mess that is plastic recycling

About Kristy Dyer:

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Environment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Milestone RCMP Cops For Kids fundraiser ride going virtual

You can join and help RCMP raise funds for families and possibly win 20th anniversary cycling shirt

QUIZ: A celebration of dogs

These are the dog days of summer. How much do you know about dogs?

Haze over Okanagan and Shuswap skies may have drifted from Siberia

Few active wildifres so far this summer in B.C.

Guerrilla Gigs replacing Streetfest this summer in Revelstoke

Buy one of 30 tickets the Sunday before the Wednesday show

UPDATE: Trans-Canada Highway open to single-lane traffic west of Revelstoke due to flooding

The highway between Revelstoke and Golden is also open again

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

Coalmont woman airlifted after ATV crash

Off-road vehicle swerved to miss oncoming traffic

Summerland campground to provide COVID-safe accommodations for temporary farm-workers

The managed seasonal worker campsite will be located within a separated area of Peach Orchard Municipal Campground

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

No abandoned Seadoo found on Coldstream lake

Vernon Search and Rescue crews and RCMP unable to find reported abandoned Seadoo on Kal Lake

Kelowna high school football star, water skier, signs with University of Calgary

Isaac Athans, and his family, have a long history of success across various sports in the Okanagan, nationally

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Most Read