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Rent it Right

by Janet Portman, Inman News

Green roofQ: I’ve been looking at a brand-new apartment complex that advertises itself as a “green community.”

When I asked the leasing agent about what that meant, she could only point to the recycling bins and the use of high-efficient outdoor lighting. This seemed pretty paltry to me.

Are there standards that an owner must meet before being able to claim “green” status for a building? –Max M.

A: In the past it was onsite laundry facilities, then cable TV access, then Wi-Fi. Now, it seems that “green” is the newest amenity that apartment owners hope will set them apart from the competition. But unlike those earlier upgrades (either there was a laundry room or there wasn’t), being “green,” or energy efficient, isn’t so easy to measure in a residential building.

Commercial buildings and single-family homes can be measured against the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, but no green building standard existed for apartment communities until January 2009, when the National Green Building Standard was approved by the American National Standards Institute.

The first question to ask that leasing agent is whether this complex was built using methods, materials and designs that approximate the new standards. If the complex was designed and built using green approaches and materials, the next question is whether the property is run with “greenness” in mind.

You’ve been shown two green practices — recycling and efficient lighting — but these are only the tip of the environmentally conscious iceberg. To be truly green, this property should practice overall energy- and water-saving techniques, use cleaning compounds low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and have low-emission equipment, among other things. To encourage individual tenants to conserve, utilities should be individually metered.

Finally, a successful green building depends on the behavior of the individual tenants. Those who refuse to recycle or who use phosphate-rich compounds or inordinate amounts of water will sabotage management’s efforts to go green. This is where things can get tricky.

To require green practices among tenants, landlords need to write “green compliance” clauses into their leases. If they are to mean anything, these clauses must be enforceable, putting tenants who don’t comply at risk of termination and eviction.

But how does a landlord monitor the brand of soap or amount of water tenants use without violating their rights to privacy? Hopefully, the promise of a green environment (and the premium that many tenants will pay for such a living situation) will attract only those who are eager to conform to the program, making enforcement all but unnecessary.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at [email protected] Copyright 2009 Janet Portman

See Janet Portman’s feature How to Negotiate a Lease Buyout.

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  • Janet Elsie

    “Green” seems to have become an ambiguous word. If I were renting a “”green” apartment, I would expect it to have no carpeting, no asbestos, little or no formaldehyde, windows that open easily, and a radon concentration below 2 pCi/L. Recycle bins and efficient lighting would be nice too.

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