Burlington housing code changes would force landlords to weatherize

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The city of Burlington is looking for ways to make sure landlords weatherize area homes.

Council recently approved recommendations to improve energy efficiency in rental housing. The city hopes increasing energy efficiency will improve the quality and comfort of rental units. They're also hoping it will hold landlords accountable in making sure their units are weatherized.

The changes to the housing code are designed to prompt landlords to weatherize and by either implementing a financial cap landlords have to pay each year, or enforcing a standard of how well weatherization has to be done.

"The idea is that step one -- we tighten up and button up these rental units so that we're not wasting money and wasting fossil fuels," said Burlington City Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East District.

The recommendation includes amending the city's current Time of Sale Ordinance to require all rental units be weatherized when sold and inspected every one to five years. This would be part of the minimum housing code that is enforced by the Department of Permitting & Inspections.

Hanson says the hope Is that landlords keep up with their properties more frequently. "If it's a standard that they have to meet, the landlords who have neglected this issue or whose rental units are less efficient, they would have to spend more than folks who have already done some work or have some degree of energy efficiency," he said.

It will either come down to a performance standard or a financial one. Hanson says the council is also considering requiring landlords pay a certain amount of money to weatherize their rentals.

Angela Zaikowski of the Vermont Landlords Association says that regulation could negatively impact landlords with fewer properties. "They're the ones that have the biggest risk when new policies like this go into effect," she said.

Zaikowski says landlords pay out-of-pocket for repairs. With this particular rule, she's concerned they might be penalized for not being able to meet the threshold. "It's a question of where's the money coming from and do they have the money to do all the things they want to do to a building. So it always comes down to cash flow and whether they can afford it and what resources are out there for them to be able to utilize to help," she said.

Hanson says that Vermont Gas covers half the cost of weatherization and connects property owners with a two-year zero interest loan to pay for the rest, so he doesnt anticipate that being an issue.

Some councilors are concerned landlords would end up charging tenants more for rent to cover those costs if they had to meet a financial requirement to pay for weatherization. Council is brainstorming ways to combat that.

“If a landlord wants to raise rents for any reason or no reason at all, they can do that. So it's really important that we look at things like landlord licensing or rent control and rent stabilization so we can make sure landlords aren't able to simply do whatever they want at the expense of the renter,” said Hanson.

WCAX also spoke with the Burlington Electric Department. Manager Darren Springer tells us there are about 14,000 homes and apartments in Burlington that have not been weatherized