City energy disclosure program aims to inform renters

The measure could help student renters understand potential energy costs before signing a lease.

by Emma Dill

With energy efficiency in mind, the Minneapolis City Council will introduce a measure next week requiring landlords to inform potential residents of a property’s utility costs.  

Under the ordinance, landlords will have to provide applicants with a building’s average per unit energy costs. Council members say the disclosures could better inform renters and motivate landlords to make their properties more energy efficient.

Ward 2 Council member Cam Gordon, who worked on the ordinance, said the measure will make energy considerations a standard part of renting in Minneapolis.

“Just like you disclose how much rent is going to cost, we want to also have this information about what your energy costs might be,” Gordon said.

Council members collaborated with renters’ advocacy groups and held community meetings to develop the ordinance language. While previous versions of the proposed ordinance required disclosure at the time of signing the lease, attendees advocated moving the disclosure time up to the application stage.

“Renters advocates and the rental property owners actually agreed that that would be the best time for the disclosure to happen,” said Robin Garwood, Gordon’s policy aide who helped draft the ordinance.

The energy disclosures are part of the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, a 2013 report that outlines strategies to reduce the City’s energy use by 17 percent by 2025, among other goals. 

The disclosures will help Minneapolis more accurately estimate how much energy is used citywide, Gordon said.

Kendre Turonie, the University of Minnesota’s Off-Campus Living program director, said the ordinance helps ensure student renters are informed about their leases.

“I think that the intention here is to get some of that information before you sign the lease, so you can decide and know, ‘Oh my gosh, my heating bill’s going to be $400 to $500 a month … and I’m only budgeting for $25 a month. That’s a problem,’” Turonie said.

While newer apartment buildings near campus usually have consistent utility bills year-round, renters in older houses often see significant utility increases during the winter, Turonie said. 

Turonie also hopes the ordinance might prompt landlords to make energy efficiency investments in their properties.

“It’s a business,” she said. “There’s no benefit because it’s just an investment in the property and a benefit to tenants. It doesn’t impact how much money they make from the property.”

Gordon said the disclosures have the potential to change the rental process in the city.

“We think this could make a big difference as part of the bigger picture, but only if people react and do something about the disclosures,” he said.

The program is anticipated to begin in 2021.