How the Disastrous Effects of Climate Change Could Burden Renters

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has kept track of “billion-dollar weather and climate disasters” since 1980. A weather or climate event is deemed a billion-dollar disaster when its overall damages and costs reach or exceed $1 billion. 

In 2021 there were twenty such weather/climate events, including droughts, flooding, severe storms, tropical cyclones, wildfires, and winter storms. These events resulted in over 500 deaths and had significant economic effects on the stricken areas. By contrast, there were 29 such events from 1980 to 1989.

What does this mean for renters? 

The increasing incidence of extreme weather indicates that climate change is coming faster than expected. Renters and homeowners alike are affected by these changes, as weather threats just over the horizon affect the rental and housing markets of today. 

Homeownership in the face of climate change 

As per Business Insider, some millennials are rethinking buying homes altogether. For example, in the Bay Area of Northern California, the threat of wildfires (along with ever increasing housing prices) have soured millenials on buying homes. One 2021 study found that the percent of millennials intending to be lifetime renters rose from 12 percent in 2019 to 18 percent in 2020. 

Is the coast toast? 

While the affordability of homes remains the leading issue, climate change is also reshaping what areas are most desirable to live in. In California, where the Pacific Ocean is rising every year, solutions such as revolving loan programs have been proposed. These programs would charge homeowners or others to “rent” homes in vulnerable coastal communities until they were no longer livable. 

The housing market will also continue to change 

The problem isn’t limited to just coastal communities either. In January 2022, The Washington Post reported that over 40 percent of Americans lived in counties affected by climate disasters, so climate change is set to be a bigger factor with each passing year when it comes to the rental and housing market. 

Rental housing needs to be fortified in preparation for climate change 

The American rental market is heating up due to a lack of homes for sale, which has kept higher-income buyers from purchasing homes. While some groups have proposed a federally funded housing safety net as a solution, another key challenge is protecting current rental housing from climate change. 

Can existing rental units weather the coming storm? 

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has noted in a 2022 report that climate change threatens almost half of existing rental housing. These realities also disproportionately affect low-income and communities of color. 

One foreseeable effect of climate change on rental units is an increase in the need for maintenance and repairs to offset the damage from weather events. Areas that are particularly vulnerable to climate change related weather events will likely have even more major changes needed to protect rental units. 

More worryingly, weather-related damage could render some rental units uninhabitable, posing a threat to tenants’ safety and affecting the supply of rental apartments and homes. The logistics of some rental units also leave them especially vulnerable. For example, basement apartments in coastal communities are set to be greatly affected by rising sea levels. Even if property managers do take steps to protect against the effects of climate change, some weather and climate events also have long-term effects on health. 

Will renters be able to face climate change? 

Renters also tend to receive less assistance after weather disasters compared to homeowners. Less of the money allocated for recovery spending goes to renters, and these funds also take longer to be expended. It’s likely that these delays further exacerbate the loss of rental housing. 

Renters also appear to have less of the resources needed to evacuate to safety as well as proper insurance coverage in case of weather emergencies. There is also a lack of disclosure laws for renters versus homeowners, with Georgia being the only state that requires landlords to disclose such information to renters. 

So…what can renters do to protect themselves from climate change? 

First, it’s imperative that renters equip themselves with as much information as possible about the apartment they want to rent, the surrounding neighborhoods, and local laws and regulations. Conducting research can be as simple as typing “climate change” plus your location into the search engine of your choice. Being well-prepared for dealing with climate change should also extend past the individual level. It can also be worthwhile to call or email the landlord or property manager and ask them what steps they have taken to fortify the rental unit against adverse weather.

Consider the climate when choosing an apartment 

It’s important to consider the weather when thinking about what kind of apartment you want. For example, if flooding is a distant but very real possibility in your area of choice, you may want to avoid basement apartments and units on the lower level. If being able to travel to safety quickly with your family or pets is a top priority, be sure to check the parking situation at any apartments you look at and how well-protected your vehicle will be from the elements. 

Pick an apartment with emergency plans in place

It can also be helpful to ask about evaluation plans and whether your complex of choice has shelters, resources, or other infrastructure in place to help tenants deal with extreme weather. As always, we recommend being as polite and straightforward as possible. Any reputable landlord or property manager should be happy to let you know what steps they are taking as well as any potential evacuation plans the complex could have. 

Each area will have varying concerns and regulations. Remember, when it comes to apartments, it’s better to have too much information than too little. 

Weather it together 

While all this information may seem daunting, dealing with climate change as a renter isn’t a lone effort. Landlords, property managers, and the people helping you find the perfect place to rent will likely all want to do their part, as climate change affects everyone’s homes, not just renters. 

While we can’t predict the future, we hope keeping the above tips in mind when apartment hunting can help renters find a place to wait out storms.