PRI's Marketplace has a story of a low income worker's struggle to raise her family on $13/hour in California. One quote stands out: "One of Flores' biggest struggle is paying the utilities. Tears fill her eyes as she explained, 'I have to say I'm sorry to my children when my light is cut off.' " ( ) Too many low income families have this problem. In Ohio's winter it's more than just embarrassing, losing utilities can be life threatening.
When it comes to utilities, renters are in a double bind. Tenant consumers can't make energy savings improvements to lower their consumption. "Landlords, on the other hand, don’t have an incentive to pay for upgrades that would only save their tenants’ money."
Scary headlines this past week warned of rising costs for heating, According the Columbus Dispatch, households which heat with gas will see prices about 22% higher than last year. Propane costs are expected to be up by 26%. Heating with electricity should cost consumers only about 5% more than last year. Keep in mind that gas prices last year were exceptionally low and the winter was very mild. The increase and the forecasts account for the increases.
What can tenants do?
1. Investigate before you rent.
Look at the utility bills for a rental unit for the past year before you sign a lease.
Calculate affordability. Keep in mind that rent + utilities should ideally be below 30% of your monthly income. Any higher and you are rent burdened. Falling behind in rent in order to keep the heat on is a receipe for disaster.
Avoid utility reselling scams. When you pay your landlord or a third party biller for your utilities, you are not eligible for public benefit programs like PIPP. Plus you are probably a higher rate for utilities and additional service charges. More here.
Look for EnergyStar appliances in the unit. "...if renters had as many energy-efficient appliances as homeowners, annual energy consumption would decrease by 9.4 trillion BTUs across the United States." more here
2. Adopt Self help conservation steps like caulking, LED light bulbs, plastic window coverings, set back thermostat, thermal draperies and weatherstripping.
3. Know where to find emergency assistance. Even thought many households have come to rely on LIHEAP, the program serves only a fraction of the eligible households. more here.
4. Encourage your landlord to adopt energy savings improvements. New Federal incentives will be coming on line to reward landlords who invest in energy savings programs.
5. Negotiate for energy savings improvements. You may be able to convince your landlord to invest in energy savings appliances, for instance, if you are willing to accept a modest rent increase, but do the math to assure that your rent will result in a net savings on electricity. more here
Mary Clark responds to CityScape story on Slumlords in Cincinnati.
"As an agent with a background in rental housing, especially multifamilies, I have always wondered what we can do to bring standards to investment and how to mandate some kind of education for any entity or person planning on purchasing rental housing in Ohio. This is a complicated situation but the lack of education for prospective investors seems to be an important aspect which is overlooked." Read more here.