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Burlington Utilities Enforce and Incentivize Energy Efficiency Upon Landlords

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Source: Eva Hoskin

Burlington is riddled with homes that have been around for hundreds of years, many have been converted to and are existing as rental units for the past few decades. With this comes outdated insulation and weatherization tactics- when landlords aren’t the ones paying for heating and electric utilities, why would they invest the time and money update these units? The vacancy rate in Burlington is so low that tenants don’t have the market power to be particular of what they live in. Thankfully, Burlington Electric and Vermont Gas have come up with programs to help encourage property owners to facilitate energy efficiency improvements on the units, not only improving impact on the environment but for the comfort and safety of tenants as well. The two programs in place are the Time of Sale Ordinance and Energy Champ. 

The Time of Sale ordinance requires property managers to make necessary weatherization improvements for rental properties once they are sold from one property owner to the next. The payment of the work comes through an agreement between the buyer and seller, with an additional cost of around $100 for the energy audit from BED certified inspectors- which entails a walk through the units while possible improvements are pointed out. According to the Burlington Electric website, improvements must not exceed 3% of the sale price as listed on the property transfer tax return, or $1,300 per rental unit.  The type of work that this entails is improvements to exterior walls, open attics/ceilings/roofs, insulation of other areas, accessible heating, cooling ducts & hot water piping, and windows & doors (Burlington Electric Department).

Energy Champ is a different type of program, it’s for current property owners who are looking to improve the efficiency of their rental units. It entails the same type of audit process from certified inspector; however, what incentivizes property owners to partake in Energy Champ is due to the fact Burlington Electric and Vermont Gas have offered to cover 75% of the costs of improving efficiencies. 

You might be wondering why utility companies would be interested funding a program to essentially help customers use their product less. Utilities benefit because customers are consuming less energy, which helps allow them to spend less on transmission and lowers the occurrence of spikes in energy demand- placing stress on utility companies. These companies are also working towards the greater benefit of helping Burlington reach its 90% renewable by 2050 goal.

Landlords reap benefits because the value of their properties increase and provides a higher appeal to their units to potential renters, knowing that their utilities will be that much lower. Current renters will be happy with their lower bills and higher comfort due to properly weatherized apartments- causing them to stay in place longer, reducing landlords’ burden of frequent renter turnover.

There are a few potential roadblocks to either of the programs. One of them being tenant’s unwillingness to cooperate; particularly with the high demographic of young college students in Burlington- many will not want to be burdened by projects in the home. Landlords are also discouraged knowing that tenants might not be doing their share as well, i.e. keeping storm windows closed. There is also the possibility that landlords get nervous about their units being combed over. There have been cases where auditors have found maintenance and safety issues in homes while inspecting for efficiency improvements.

            Since the Time of Sale Ordinance was rolled out in 1997, there haven’t been any substantial updates to the mandate. When asked about expanding the ordinance to not only efficiencies but renewables as well, Jen Green, Burlington’s Director of Sustainability, stated we must first focus on reducing load rather than focusing on new energies. Green also stated that the City of Burlington has a consulting firm coming in in the near future who will hopefully help recommend where to move forward with the policy or create a new policy with similar values. 

            Burlington is making great strides towards ensuring efficiency for its renters, a great example for other towns in Vermont, to read more about these programs checkout