Both owners and tenants can benefit from retrofitting their houses.
“If a landlord and a renter were in a conversation,” says Jessica Steinborner, from Moreland Energy Foundation. “I think they’d agree that we should do something about sustainability, and that our homes are a good place to start. But how do we actually get the changes to happen?”
It’s tricky to even begin that discussion: communication between landlords and tenants is often fraught and property managers don’t always help.
As a part of its Energy Efficient Homes Package, however, the Federal Government has given all parties a reason to get talking. Owners are now eligible for up to $1000 to install insulation and $1600 to replace electric hot water heaters with solar units.
Landlords can also get rebates on rainwater tanks and grey water setups, and claim tax deductions on eco-maintenance around their properties. What’s more, from May 2011, they’ll be required to reveal the dwelling’s energy performance at the point of lease.
These steps help reduce the so-called split incentives, whereby property-owners pay for big-ticket items, but tenants get the lower bills. Ms Steinborner argues that, in any case, owners do benefit from their investment. “It improves their property – not just the resale value, but also the ability to get long-term tenants. Renters understand that it will be a far cheaper and more comfortable house to live in.”
Moreland Energy Foundation organises free workshops for local renters who want to green their homes. The good news, Ms Steinborner says, is that people can slash their eco-footprints without altering their houses. “About 30 per cent of household energy use is related to behaviour; things like closing the curtains when the sun goes down, using external blinds in summer, shortening showers, washing clothes in cold water, setting thermostats correctly and turning lights off.”
Renters can also install compact-fluorescent light globes and choose efficient appliances without bothering the owner. But before they make other changes – including switching showerheads – they should get approval. “There are small things that often people won’t do because they’re worried about their tenure, and nervous about contacting their landlord,” Ms Steinborner says.
With energy and water prices rising, low-income renters are likely to be the first to suffer. Last year, a group of Melbournians started Just Change, an organisation dedicated to addressing these equity concerns. “We put up to $1800 worth of energy efficiency retrofitting into a house,” says Dougal McInnes, “and ask for up to a one-year rental freeze (in exchange).”
He says it’s been difficult to find homes where all parties are willing to be involved. “We’ve found that real estate agents are the key, both to gaining consent from the landlord and access to the tenants.” There’s a lesson for aspiring eco-friendly tenants and owners: get your property manager onside first.