This report examines the policy and regulatory pathways available to improve tenants’ rights to energy-efficient, climate-resilient, and safe rental housing in British Columbia (BC). In a time of increasing weather extremes, improving the energy efficiency and climate resilience of housing is of mounting importance. There are many incentives and programs for homeowners to do so. However, tenants do not have the same access to incentives, nor do they have the same rights to alter their living environment.
This report summarizes findings from a review of the literature on policies and programs targeting tenant energy issues, key interviews, and comparative analysis. Over 70 policies, regulations, and programs were evaluated based on equity, effectiveness, and feasibility in the BC context. The existing local (BC) initiatives featured voluntary incentive programs that catered to landlords, while cost-sharing, prescriptive standards, performance standards, and tenants’ rights initiatives in other jurisdictions improved different dimensions of equity and effectiveness.
The analysis in this report concludes that combining multiple initiatives — specifically mandatory energy labelling, tenant involvement in the renovation process, prescriptive standards, and affordability covenants—offers the most promising way of improving tenants’ rights to energy-efficient housing without disincentivizing rental housing improvements. The report makes two recommendations for BC policymakers: foundational initiatives and policy-program pathway options.
The four foundational initiatives are:
- Establish a provincial rental housing registry
- Add a rental energy disclosure requirement to the Residential Tenancy Act
- Mandate the use of future climate files for energy audits
- Enable the creation of a labelling system for residential energy efficiency and climate adaptation
These four foundational recommendations will help implement any of the three recommended policy-program pathways:
- Pathway 1: Regulation through the BC Existing Building Renewal Strategy
- Pathway 2: Regulation through amending the Residential Tenancy Act
- Pathway 3: Incentive through utility cost splitting
Implementing the first four initiatives will quantify BC’s rental housing stock, demystify energy usage information, and enable a more strategic and effective energy efficiency policy. Each program-policy pathway increases tenants’ rights while encouraging rental stock retrofits.
The negative impacts of climate change are being experienced more frequently — with weather extremes such as heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and extreme cold snaps becoming “normal” — and sometimes happening all in one year. Much of BC’s residential housing has not been built to deal with these weather extremes, with many not having any cooling systems, air filtration systems, or the ability to create cross-breezes. Moreover, most existing residential housing in BC is energy-inefficient, so moderate and low-income homeowners and tenants may struggle with heightened utility bills, especially as energy costs increase.
Regardless of income, tenants are almost never able to alter their own living environment to deal with these extremes or to improve energy efficiency. Landlords have the power to prevent tenant-led renovations and often write anti-alteration clauses into leases. Across the province, tenants account for 33% of the total households (669,450 tenant households in 2021), and thus a third of BC households are missing the right to control their own living environments to maintain safe and healthy housing — hence the title of this report: The Missing Third.
Tenants can purchase their own equipment (such as portable air conditioners and heaters) to adapt temporarily to weather extremes, but it can be costly and may not be very effective if the space itself is not energy efficient. This added cost contributes to energy poverty among tenants, with some who are unable to afford energy costs foregoing basic energy use or other essentials like food. Having inadequate access to energy systems to cool, heat, or filter air further contributes to tenant energy poverty or energy insecurity, which can be defined as a tenant not being able to afford or access sufficient energy services to meet their basic domestic needs or safeguard their health.
Most tenants in BC pay for utilities, which contributes to tenant energy poverty because landlords are not motivated to improve rental housing energy efficiency or operating systems as they do not pay for the cost of these ineffective systems. In BC, at least 300,000 households experience energy poverty, and these households usually have less disposable income available to address energy efficiency, extreme weather, or health issues in their homes. Retrofitting rental housing to have sufficient and efficient energy systems to meet tenants’ domestic and health needs will contribute to reducing tenant energy poverty.
Existing BC programs and policies that encourage residential energy retrofits largely target and benefit homeowners. The research for this report sought to find alternative strategies that encourage rental housing retrofits without downloading the costs of these retrofits onto the tenant. The recommendations in this report provide policy, regulation, and program suggestions based on best practices from around the world that improve energy efficiency, climate resilience, and safety standards for rental housing. For the purposes of this research, only climate resilience to extreme heat/cold and poor air quality will be addressed, and “safety” is being used in the context of maintaining tenants’ health during extreme temperatures and poor air quality events.
Using three different methodologies (conducting environmental scans, conducting key informative interviews, and doing a comparative analysis through the lenses of equity, effectiveness, and feasibility), this research reviewed local (BC) and international initiatives to gain key insights that are applicable to the BC context and that will help improve tenants’ rights to energy efficient, climate resilient, and safe housing.
Prepared by: Maya Korbynn, UBC Sustainability Scholar, 2023
Prepared for: Josephine Schrott, Analyst, Community Energy Team, Ecotrust Canada
READ THE FULL REPORT: The Missing Third: Improving Tenant’s Rights to Energy Efficient, Climate Resilient, and Safe Housing
[Published April 4, 2023]
. Minimum requirements for energy efficiency were only introduced into the BC Building code in 2014, as per the Government of British Columbia, “FACTSHEET”.
. Statistics Canada, 2021 Census Profile.
. The definition is a truncation of the G20 definition of energy poverty, outlined in Group of Twenty, “Executive Note”.
. Das, Martiskainen and Li, “Quantifying”.