The U.S. is in the midst of a severe multi-state drought, and it’s driving the price of water up across the country. Nationally, there has been a 41% increase in water prices since 2010. In 2015 alone, water costs are up 6% in 30 major cities.
The average American uses 176 gallons of water per day, and population growth is placing a heavy burden on municipal water sources. Once those gallons are washed down the drain, most cities require they undergo expensive wastewater treatment.
While drought conditions are spurring some landlords to pass water bills on to tenants, most tenants in multiunit structures don’t directly pay for the water they use, meaning they have little incentive to conserve water. Unfortunately, this places the onus of water conservation on landlords and facility management professionals.
Consider taking these four steps that can help you encourage tenants to take an active role in reducing water consumption in their units.
1) Educate Tenants on Water Conservation
For some tenants, a simple flier or email reminding them of reasons to conserve water will be sufficient. Many localities are already running online, TV, and radio campaigns, and stories about water conservation are constantly in the news.
Be sure to provide tenants with a checklist of ways to reduce water use, including taking shorter showers, turning water off while brushing teeth, and only running the washing machine with a full load. Be sure to post information on water conservation and tips to conserve throughout hallways and common areas.
2) Routinely Inspect for Water Waste
The conversation about water waste often focuses on commercial farmers or consumers with large yards, but an apartment complex with 20 units can use a staggering 64,500 gallons per month, particularly when residents aren’t directly paying the water bill.
Many tenants waste water with habits such as long showers, doing half-loads of laundry, or not reporting leaks. In general, if a leak isn’t directly damaging their home, people often let it go unfixed.
Your rental agreement should have a clause allowing routine inspections, and checking for water leaks should be a part of these inspections. Check pipes, appliances and faucets before a tenant moves in, whenever a problem is reported, when a lease is renewed, and after the tenant moves out. Check for leaky diverters in showers, and test for toilet problems by putting food coloring in the tank and not flushing the toilet. If any color runs into the bowl, the toilet’s flapper isn’t sealing properly and should be replaced.
3) Regulate Water Flow
Be sure your toilets, showers, and sinks have flow regulators installed. It’s best in most circumstances to use a 2 gallons-per-minute flow restrictor for showers and a 1.5 gpm restrictor for bathroom faucets and kitchen sinks.
Restricting water flow in showers is particularly important, as restricted showers use 30-70% less water than conventional showers. Be sure to opt for a shower restrictor that’s tamper-proof as well, as tenants tend to pop off flow restrictors when they’re not paying for water.
4) Lay Down the Law
Occasionally, people simply won’t do something unless they’re forced. This doesn’t mean you have to evict a defiant tenant immediately. Start by sending a warning letter referencing the tenant’s excessive water consumption.
If the tenant continues to waste water, meet with him to determine the source of waste. Perhaps the tenant loves long showers and doesn’t realize how much water he’s wasting. If he still refuses to clean up his act, consider billing him for it. While landlords in some areas, such as New York City, are legally responsible for providing tenants with hot water, you can bill the tenant for the cost of operating the water heating equipment.
Water is essential for life, and droughts will only get worse with continued population growth and climate change. With conservation education, water flow regulators, routine maintenance, and a little tough love, landlords and property managers can encourage lifestyles that conserve our most valuable resource.
David Schwartz is the founder and president of The Water Scrooge.
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