Green Renting Revolution

Ecofriendly options emerge for tenants who band together

| January-February 2009

  • Green Renters

    Image by Peter O. Zierlein /

  • Green Renters

Read savvy tips from the alternative press on greening your rental pad .

Renters from New York to Seattle have spent years at the mercy of their landlords, rhythmically reciting mantras like “If I owned my own house, I’d definitely install solar panels.” How many days have they spent waiting to have drafty windows sealed or leaky faucets fixed—cringing as carbon footprints enlarge to gargantuan craters?

Their powerlessness might soon be history. In 2008 as the U.S. housing market crumbled, the green residential sector continued to flourish, reports TreeHugger (Aug. 26, 2008). As a result, tenants are rapidly gaining genuine leverage to make meaningful decisions about their homes. Green options associated with home ownership—like large-scale building improvements—are no longer improbabilities. But to take full advantage of their opportunities, tenants must reject traditionally passive roles and start tapping into their communities.

Opening communication with neighbors and landlords is the place to begin. “Competition among landlords is fierce,” counsels Philadelphia’s new sustainability magazine Grid (Sept. 2008). Informing your landlord that green initiatives are important to you as a consumer—and rising in importance to others—frames greening as a sensible if not essential investment. Rallying fellow tenants for eco-conscious choices, like reminding a landlord to cool off a scalding-hot water heater, builds the solidarity necessary to influence even bigger change.

Propelling those big green ideas to fruition requires substantial coordination. That’s why the Massachusetts-based Cambridge Energy Alliance is developing a “green lease” in collaboration with the Henry P. Kendall Foundation. “So many renters feel powerless,” says Amy Panek, a Kendall Foundation program officer. “We’re trying to find a way to empower them and give them options similar to those of a home owner.”

The lease, profiled in Conscious Choice (Sept. 2008), is a document (signed in addition to the regular lease) designed to provide incentives to both the profit-minded proprietor and the eco-minded renter. After an energy audit, landlords agree to make green renovations, such as upgrading to energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. In return, tenants agree to pay a fixed monthly energy charge in place of their utility bills to offset the costs of installing improvements.

8/12/2014 10:16:04 AM

Unfortunately, residential green leases haven't materialized since this article was written. I respect the author's optimism but, with the perspective of hindsight, the article seems like a predictive miss. The only way to encourage better investment in rental sustainability is to encourage the conversation between renters and landlords and give renters the information they need to negotiate.

2/14/2009 5:19:16 PM

“Tenants need to know that their landlords will actually make the improvements they promise,” Panek says. It's not just the tenants: landlords need the certainty that this will be an attribute that tenants keep their promise to pay as well. The prior commentor mentions landlords doing whatever they please and getting away with it. Unfortunately, it runs both ways, and usually the landlord takes it in the wallet those times. I've had tenants ruin new carpets, repaint walls (just painted within the last two years) with a bizarre color scheme, and leaving me stuck with the repainting so that it could be re-rented, damaged walls, cigarette damages (in a non-smoking suite), etc., etc. Not a single tenant in 15 years has returned the suite as clean as it was handed over to them. I consider myself an ethical landlord who tries very hard to maintain my suite in a top fashion and, while I've had many decent tenants, unfortunately, about 30% leave much to be desired. My hope is that both tenants and landlords act ethically, so that these worthy green iniatitives unfold as quickly as possible.

laura p_1
2/11/2009 12:48:53 PM

This assumes, though, that there is actually a lot of competition among landlords. I don't find that to be the case in Portland, OR, where rents are skyrocketing (in my experience) and it's becoming increasingly difficult to find decent housing that has affordable rent. Truly, what I pay for my incredibly neglected apartment is shamefully high, and believe me, it's still considered "a great deal." My landlady also seems to be keen on greening our apartment complex (ironic, seeing as how when I moved in 3 years ago half of the apartments had kitchen sinks that drained directly into the alley) but isn't keen on spending any money to do so. Recently, she dropped off a couple of giant bins that appear to be for stormwater collection--something she's been talking about doing forever. However, she did not hook them up to anything or give any explanation as to why they were there, and has just notified us that she'll be out of town until late March. I'll be shocked if anything but moss collects in those bins. The last time there was something green happening was when she decided she wanted to tear up the lawn and build raised beds so we could all have garden space. Months went by without action, and when I finally asked her about it she said, "Oh, well, it would be *your* garden, so you have to build it." Clearly, I have somewhat of an absentee (and absentminded) landlady, and this is not the norm for Portland. But it's such a great deal -- and that's the thing. As long as demand for affordable housing outstrips supply, landlords can do whatever they please and get away with it.

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