Ordinance would require landlords to tell tenants energy costs

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | 6:46 p.m. CDT; updated 4:37 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 10, 2010

COLUMBIA — Landlords would be required to disclose energy costs to tenants as a way to promote energy efficiency under a draft ordinance the Environment and Energy Commission is developing.

Dan Goldstein, chairman of the commission, said requiring utility costs up front creates an incentive for landlords to make their properties more energy-efficient.

In disclosing these costs, landlords with the lowest utility rates would have a competitive advantage in the rental market and more readily rent their units, which is the incentive for energy efficiency, said Lawrence Lile, a landlord and a member of the Environment and Energy Commission.

Mark Stevenson of the Columbia Apartment Association said the commission should have contacted the association much sooner for community input. He said the association needed to take a closer look at the proposal before taking a position.

“It’s wrong to burden people without considering their opinion,” Stevenson said.

Arnie Fagan, managing broker for ARG! Commercial Real Estate, questioned whether the costs to make a property more energy-efficient compared favorably to the energy savings for renters.

Fagan said, generally, landlords are not going to replace already-working equipment unless it makes financial sense for themselves. Replacing an existing heating and ventilation system for a more efficient one could easily cost up to $7,000, he said.

The disclosure requirement is not an incentive unless landlords are replacing worn equipment, Fagan said.

Steve Lightner, a board member of the Mid-Missouri Apartment Association, said he doesn’t want more rental housing regulations.

To compensate for paying for the upgrades, rental rates would have to go up, he said.

“If you have to pay"  for efficiency upgrades, "that’s not an incentive."

With the utility rates, Lightner said, the actual rates could vary greatly depending on the living habits and the number of residents occupying the apartment. The rates provided would be ambiguous, he said.

The energy costs landlords would be obligated to provide, according to the draft proposal, would be based on the previous year's monthly average utility cost.

  • In buildings with more than one unit, a monthly average of all units would be provided.
  • Vacant units would use the utility rates from the last year of occupancy.

Exemptions to the draft proposal would apply in the following ways:

  • Rental units where the landlord pays the total utility cost would not have to disclose utility rates.
  • In newly constructed rental units, landlords would not have to disclose the rates for a year.
  • Units that have newly improved efficiency upgrades, as recommended by an energy audit, would also have a one-year exemption from providing the rates.

Enforcement of the ordinance would be complaint-driven. If a renter finds that a landlord misrepresents the previous utility costs for his or her property, he or she could file a complaint, Lile said.

Landlords found in violation, according to the draft proposal, would face a misdemeanor charge, and if convicted, a fine of up to $500 or both a fine and up to three months in jail would be imposed.

In defense to prosecution, if a landlord requests to enter the property, and they use "reasonable effort" to do so in order to make corrections but are denied access by the lessee, an injunction or "other appropriate forms of remedy or relief" will be provided by the city to the individual, according to the draft.

City Manager Bill Watkins supports the idea, but said he needed to review the proposal further before taking a position.

A rental housing energy efficiency subcommittee of the Environment and Energy Commission will continue to gather input. The commission meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month.

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