Tenant Utility Tracking in Multifamily Residential Buildings
For a multifamily apartment building, creating an accurate benchmark of utility consumption can be hampered by inability to access data from tenant-paid spaces. In order to track and analyze the way that a building is using water and energy, a property owner or manager must reach out to tenants, requesting usage histories for the spaces they occupy.
Whole-building electricity usage (kWh/sf) involves both common-area usage (green) and tenant-usage. Note how the vast majority of usage comes from tenant-spaces, and that the least-efficient tenant here (yellow) uses more than triple the electricity as the most efficient (dark blue).
The most common ways to work around the problem of tenant-paid utilities are to either ask tenants for a record of their recent utility use (this can be recorded from saved bills and 12 months is typically enough history), or to obtain data releases from tenants, authorizing the building manager to access their utility data online. Both methods enable building managers to calculate baseline energy and water use for their buildings.
There are a number of reasons why your tenants may not want to hand over their utility usage histories. If you’re a property owner or manager looking to track the utility consumption of your tenant-paid spaces, keep these concerns in mind to make the data-gathering process as easy and effective as possible.
- The Problem: Utility consumption is a direct reflection of personal habits and behavior, and as such, is sensitive information. Particularly when it comes to a landlord-tenant relationship, any personal information is likely to be closely guarded. Tenants are often concerned that landlords or managers will use the information to somehow increase their rent, void their lease, or otherwise take advantage of them. Privacy is further complicated by online data access, where confidential information is often required.
- The Solution: Be transparent in your tenant-outreach efforts. Assuming that you are not trying to take advantage of your tenants, you should have nothing to hide about the engagement process. Let tenants know, explicitly and up-front, WHAT information you will be gathering, WHY you will be gathering it, and with WHOM you will be sharing it. Be sure that your methods will keep sensitive information secure.
- The Problem: In addition to privacy concerns, many tenants may not understand the motives of the landlord. Utility usage is a pretty personal thing to be asking for, and without a clear motive, tenants might be distrustful of your efforts.
- The Solution: Make sure to educate your tenants. It is particularly important to identify why you are collecting this information (e.g. applying for retrofit funding) as well as what the information will be used for (e.g. establishing a benchmark of energy use). It is also helpful to make clear what will happen to their personal information. Let them know if their data will be traceable.
Lack of Incentive
- The Problem: Unless they have a problem, most tenants would rather their landlords leave them alone.
- The Solution: It’s important to explain why you are pursuing an energy-efficiency program and the impact it will have on your tenants. If you are looking to perform retrofits, explain that these will help make their apartments more comfortable, reduce their apartment's environmental impact, and reduce their utility bills.
Educate, Educate, Educate!
The more you can communicate with your tenants, and educate them about the importance of energy benchmarking, the better. It is important to think of data collection and release-form gathering as a process, with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Start your outreach efforts with a building-wide email or common area meeting to let your tenants know that you will be requesting their information. Be sure to explain why you are interested in the data, and what you plan to do with it.
- When distributing information requests or release forms, support your educational efforts with informational fliers that explain the process and reiterate your earlier message.
- Provide follow-up after distributing requests, checking in with tenants to address concerns, and making yourself available to answer questions.
Want to learn more? Here are some quick tips on tracking tenant data.