A reader writes: Were trying everything we can to reduce our energy use - I walk around my house like Im getting ready to go skiing - but nothing seems to make a sizable dent.
A reader writes: "We're trying everything we can to reduce our energy use - I walk around my house like I'm getting ready to go skiing - but nothing seems to make a sizable dent." LSOphoto/getty

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Welcome back to Maintenance Request, a regular column where you email me with your questions about renting in Seattle/King County and I try to get you answers. If you have a question, send it to me at heidi@thestranger.com. Ask me anything about bad landlords, finding a roommate, dealing with noisy neighbors, pets in apartments, etc. Anything about renting in the region. Please specify whether you’re in Seattle or elsewhere in Washington since the answer may vary based on your city’s laws. Remember, I’m not a lawyer. It’s always best to talk your situation over with a tenant advocate or a lawyer. You can find one using one of the services listed here. On to this week's questions:

I recently moved into a single family home with three other people and we quickly found out that the home is terribly inefficient when it comes to the electric bill. The electric bill has cost us over $1,000 in just one 4-month stretch of this winter. We're trying everything we can to reduce our energy use - I walk around my house like I'm getting ready to go skiing - but nothing seems to make a sizable dent. I've spent tons of time on the phone with Seattle City Light trying to confirm that it isn't an error on their end, and they claim it isn't. At one point a rep for city light said, and I quote, "I don't think it's possible for your home to be using that much energy." Meanwhile, our landlord refuses to lend a hand in anyway. The wiring in this house is clearly old as fuck and may be the cause, or the baseboard heaters might be the culprit. Or something else, but the landlord refuses to help out trying to troubleshoot the problem. And it will cost between $300 and $400 to bring a professional energy auditor out, and the problems they find are likely to cost even more to remedy. So here's my question - is it the landlord's responsibility to provide a reasonably efficient home? Is there any threshold where they must spend some money making the home more efficient?
Cold And Angry In Lake City

I do not have good news, CAAILC. According to a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, which enforces city housing codes, that department “cannot take any action for inefficient heating so long as it was meeting the minimum temperature requirements and was not a fire hazard.” City law requires that your rental’s heater be able to get the room to 68 degrees if it’s warmer than 24 degrees outside. (If it’s colder, the heater has to get the room to 58 degrees.) But the law doesn’t require that your heater not be a huge energy suck. So the city probably isn’t going to do much for you.

Keep in mind, though, that state and city laws require your landlord to provide working heaters and keep the place in “reasonably weathertight condition.” If you think there’s a possibility the wiring or heating in your house aren’t up to code or present a safety issue, consider filing a complaint to request an investigator visit the house. If you’re low income, try one of these programs for help paying your bill. Once you’ve been at this address for a year, City Light can set you up with its budget billing program. That means they'll spread your energy costs across the year, so all your bills are roughly the same amount, whether it's summer or winter.

In the meantime, you’ll just have to keep trying to get your energy use down. Scott Thomsen, a spokesperson for City Light, said it’s not totally impossible to rack up a bill this high if you’ve got electric baseboard heaters, an electric water heater and electric stove, drafty windows, and so on. Instead of hiring a professional, you can use this DIY home energy audit to try to figure out what’s sucking the most energy/money. You can also contact City Light’s energy advisors at SCLEnergyAdvisor@seattle.gov or (206) 684-3800 and they can walk you through ideas for lowering your bill.

Your landlord, if he gave even a single fuck, could take advantage of city programs that would help him upgrade the house. Thomsen calls baseboard heaters “the least efficient form of heat that’s out there.” City Light offers homeowners like your landlord rebates on the installment of more energy-efficient water heaters and heaters. If you haven't already, try asking your landlord directly to make these upgrades with the help of the rebates. If he blows you off, maybe some classic Seattle passive aggression is in order. Print off this information about something called a “ductless heat pump” and include it with your rent check every month.

To other readers with City Light sticker shock: The agency has seriously fucked up some people’s bills recently. So, if you also got a huge bill, get in touch and make sure it's not a mistake.

What does it mean when your landlord prefers a month-to-month lease over a yearlong one? I kind of wanted a month-to-month lease. But now that she wants it, I'm scared.

You’re right to be skeptical. No matter how nice your landlord seems, the two of you have an inherently adversarial relationship. That’s just the way this works! So yes, a month-to-month lease is generally more advantageous for your landlord than a six-month or one-year lease. Generally speaking in Washington State, a month-to-month lease means your landlord can raise your rent with just 30 days notice and end your lease for any reason—or no reason at all!—with 20 days notice. (Under a fixed-term lease, the landlord can’t raise the rent until the end of the term. They can’t kick you out until the end of the term, either, unless they’re evicting you.) A month-to-month lease gives you some flexibility, too. You can also end the lease with just 20 days notice. But in an expensive market like Seattle, finding a new place is more likely to be a stressful and expensive hassle than some sort of fun Cheryl Strayed-style life change. So this isn’t usually the kind of flexibility renters are looking for.

There are a couple important exceptions to these rules if you live in Seattle. City law here requires a landlord to give you 60 days notice if they’re raising your rent by 10 percent or more. Seattle also has a just cause eviction law. Under that law, if you’re on a month-to-month lease, the landlord has to have a reason to evict you. Those reasons include repeated failure to pay rent, interfering with other tenants' use of the property, or the owner's desire to sell the property, move into the property, or have an immediate family member move in.

I moved into my apartment 5 years ago and paid Last Month's Rent when I did. Flash-forward to now and my landlords raised my rent. They are asking me to provide the difference of the rental rate increase to supplement my Last Month's Rent payment and make it equal to the rent I will be paying once the rental rate increase hits. It was my understanding that Last Month's Rent is contractual and that by asking for it up-front landlords take it as is. The bigger problem is that when I talked to SDCI at one of their Renter Rights training sessions they told me that my landlord cannot collect the difference. When my landlords contacted SDCI they told them that they could! So, who is in the right?

You’re in the right, not your landlord. But good luck enforcing that. A spokesperson for SDCI tells me that “if you have a contract that says X amount is considered last month’s rent, our opinion is that is how much the Last Month’s Rent should be.” The catch? “A rental agreement is a contract matter and not something we enforce because contract issues are enforced in a small claims court.”

I've been saving up for a few years and am hoping to finally go back to school full time soon. I'm concerned about being able to find an apartment as a full-time student, since most landlords require proof of income. Besides student loans, I won't have any income coming in, but I do have a significant amount in savings - enough to prepay a full year if I found a cheap place (clearly I'm moving out of Seattle, not into). How can I convince my future landlord that I'm good for the rent?

Considering I recently overdrafted my bank account on a cup of coffee, I am probably not the best person to give you, a person who has saved up a year's worth of rent(!), advice. But I thought Brett Waller, government affairs director for the landlord lobbying group the Washington Multifamily Housing Association, might have some ideas. Waller says there are “a lot of properties” that will rent to someone in your circumstances. If you’re working right now before going back to school, Waller recommends you apply for a rental now while you’ve still got income. As long as you meet the property’s other requirements when you fill out the application, you “should sail through,” Waller says.

Otherwise, a landlord may ask for something extra given your lack of income. Do you have someone willing to co-sign your lease as a guarantor? Could you pay an extra deposit? Another thing to keep in mind is that soon your landlord will have to consider those student loans as income. As of September 30, landlords across Washington will no longer be able to discriminate against tenants based on how they pay their rent. (Seattle already has this law in place.) That means if you’re leasing after that date and the landlord has a certain income requirement, they’ll be required to treat that student loan money you’ll be getting just like any other income. If your future landlord doesn’t believe you, here’s the law.

Have a question about renting? Email me at heidi@thestranger.com.