What are some energy-saving tips for my rental?

Tenants can save energy and money by making a few small changes, and can negotiate with their landlords for other improvements.

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As consumers grow more energy-conscious, and environmental advocates push for greater awareness, there is no shortage of suggestions for new ways to cut energy bills and help the planet in the process. The cost-savers can be great for homeowners — but what about renters?

It turns out that many leases prevent tenants from making changes that could lead to substantial energy savings. For example, blocking drafts with caulking or foam sealant could be considered an illegal alteration or improvement in most leases. So might installing a programmable thermostat. “The things you can do as a renter are fairly limited,” says Bomee Jung, a member of the board of directors of Green Home NYC, a volunteer-run organization that helps New York residents make their buildings more sustainable.

What’s more, tenants aren’t necessarily motivated to be energy-efficient. Some aren’t responsible for paying their own heating bills, and are therefore less conscientious. Others have small apartments, so even if they install insulation — which can reduce heating costs by up to 20% — they “may not see any difference in (their) bills,” says Jennifer Thorne Amann, the buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Ask before you try
Closing up drafts with caulking or foam sealant, or putting plastic film over your windows to keep heat in may seem noninvasive. But in a standard lease, both would be prohibited because “anything that you affix to the property is considered an improvement legally, or an alteration,” says Janet Portman, co-author of the book “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.”

One solution: See if your landlord would be willing to share the cost with you. Caulk and foam sealant are eligible for federal tax credits, so you could offer to do the work and let your landlord take that credit, Kweller says. Whoever pays the heating bills will see some savings, and you’ll feel more comfortable.

Start negotiating
It could be worth your while to talk to your landlord about bigger improvements. “The biggest electricity user in your apartment is your refrigerator,” Jung says. You’ll save on your electric bill if you can persuade your landlord to replace an old fridge with a new Energy Star model, even if you have to share the cost of the new appliance, she says.

If you already have an Energy Star-compliant fridge or other appliance in your apartment and it needs to be replaced, your landlord must replace it with something that meets the same standard. A tenant whose landlord attempts to replace an appliance with something less efficient could go to small claims court, Portman says. “It’s a classic, garden-variety contract claim. I’m paying for a steak; you can’t give me a hamburger,” she says.

If your apartment is drafty and windows need to be replaced, raise the issue with your landlord. In today’s tight real-estate market, tenants do have some leverage in such negotiations, particularly if a lease is coming up for renewal.

 

Article written by: Sarah Morgan

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