Coun­cil to con­sider new rules next year

Rents

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - B Con­tact Marty Toohey at 445-3673.

need the help.”

That ar­gu­ment is thus far hy­po­thet­i­cal, and it has split the coun­cil. Four mem­bers — Sh­eryl Cole, Mike Martinez, Laura Mor­ri­son and Tovo — voted Thurs­day to have Austin En­ergy bring a rec­om­men­da­tion to the coun­cil early next year for new rules to limit rent in­creases.

They would pos­si­bly mir­ror rules for a fed­eral low-in­come weath­er­iza­tion pro­gram that pro­hibit own­ers from us­ing en­ergy efi­ciency im­prove­ments as a trig­ger for higher rents.

Three coun­cil mem­bers said the idea would dis­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion in a pro­gram that his­tor­i­cally has drawn lim­ited in­ter­est, as well as putting the city in the awk­ward po­si­tion of de­ter­min­ing what prompted an owner to raise rents. Mayor Lee Lefingwell and Coun­cil Mem­bers Bill Spel­man and Chris Ri­ley said rent lim­i­ta­tions would also work against the larger goal of the en­ergy efi­ciency pro­gram: to lower Austin’s en­ergy con­sump­tion and avert the need to build an ex­pen­sive new power plant.

“Do we really want to fol­low apart­ment own­ers and ask them to jus­tify their rents?” Spel­man said. “The mar­ket does bet­ter at that than a bu­reau­cratic ap­pa­ra­tus.”

Austin En­ergy man­agers told the coun­cil that most city pro­grams now avail­able to apart­ment com­plexes will re­im­burse up to 90 per­cent of the cost, up to $200,000.

Austin En­ergy spokesman Ed Clark said land­lords that have par­tic­i­pated did so mainly be­cause of a city rule that took ef­fect in June 2011 re­quir­ing in­e­fi­cient build­ings to be im­proved to the point that they use about as much en­ergy as com­pa­ra­ble ones. Over the past three years, about 300 of Austin’s 1,369 apart­ment com­plexes made the im­prove­ments, al­most all of them be­cause the new city rules re­quired them to, Clark said.

Spel­man said the luke­warm re­cep­tion is partly due to the fact that most ten­ants, not the build­ing own­ers, pay the elec­tric bills. The own­ers do not see a ben­ef­fit un­til they sell the build­ing or un­less lower monthly bills are a draw for ten­ants, he said.

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