Multi-unit building owner: increasing your tenants’ comfort
As a landlord, I want my clients to be happy. My clients are the residents of my buildings. There are two advantages to improving their comfort level: my clients will want to stay in my buildings longer and, as a manager, I get fewer complaints and requests. It’s a win-win for everyone!
How do you determine a property’s comfort level? Comfort is a very subjective and personal concept, but improvements can be made to certain basic aspects of the building and to how it is managed. For this article, I am going to focus on temperature and humidity control inside the building, noise levels between units, and making sure there are no unpleasant odours.
Temperature and humidity control
In centrally heated buildings, temperature control is often a source of dissatisfaction among occupants. Too hot for one person, too cold for another. Even when tenants heat their own unit, several factors regarding temperature and humidity can prove irritating to them.
To be comfortable, the indoor temperature should remain between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius. Relative humidity should be between 30 and 60%. Air that is too dry can irritate the eyes, nose and skin. Air that is too humid can create a living environment vulnerable to mould.
Let’s look at a few solutions for optimizing temperature and humidity control.
Improving a building’s airtightness and insulation
I recommend having a blower door test done to verify the building’s airtightness, meaning the amount of outdoor air that manages to enter the building. The advisor conducting the test will give you an evaluation report and an EnerGuide rating, a step that is often required to be eligible for government grants. This test costs about $350 for a 4-6-unit building.
A few tips for improving a building’s airtightness and insulation:
- Install energy-efficient windows
- Caulk around doors and windows
- Caulk wall-floor joints
- Install weatherstripping around doors and windows
- Insulate crawl spaces and end joists
- Improve roof insulation and ventilation
- Install pre-cut insulation behind electrical outlets and switches (in older buildings, conduct a test by holding your hand in front of an outlet in the winter: you will feel a change in temperature or even a slight breeze!)
Note that older multiplexes weren’t all built to be highly airtight! This means that changing the windows to improve airtightness might lead to excessive humidity, which could cause other problems. Ventilation in the units should be improved to expel humidity outdoors, or occupants should be given dehumidifiers.
Installing smart thermostats
Smart thermostats provide a more stable and consistent temperature than dial models.
For centrally heated buildings, there are several options for improving the comfort of occupants, based on the budget available:
- Have a professional perform annual maintenance on the system
- Replace the old system with a new, more powerful and energy-efficient system that provides improved comfort (check out the Énergir grants available)
- Have thermostats installed in each unit instead of in shared corridors (these buildings are a dead giveaway in January and February when all the tenants have their windows open because it’s too hot in their units)
Noise between units
Noise between units is often the most common complaint in older buildings. At least that’s how it’s been for me for the last 10 years or more. The walls between units often have no soundproofing. A few tips on this topic:
- Soundproof walls, ceiling and floors. Generally speaking, soundproofing improves tenants’ quality of life, particularly where airborne sound is concerned, such as voices and music. It can be costly to install and doesn’t completely eliminate impact noise.
- Install felt pads under chair and furniture legs.
provisions in your building regulations to foster improved collaboration among
occupants. Sample building regulations:
- Prohibit tenants from walking in hard-soled shoes (for upper floor units)
- Prohibit the use of subwoofers
- Prohibit loud music or TV after 10 p.m.
No bad odours
In my experience over the last decade, after noise between units, bad odours are what bother tenants the most.
Odour from cigarettes, cannabis or strong spices! In addition to their poor soundproofing, older buildings allow odours and smoke to seep from one unit into the next.
A few ideas for minimizing these unwanted smells:
- Establish a rule prohibiting smoking in the building’s common areas
- When renting to a new tenant, include in the lease that smoking in the unit is prohibited
- Increase the airtightness of unit doors by installing felt door seals
- Caulk the wall-floor joints between units
- Install vaporizers in the hallways to neutralize odours
- Install efficient fans above the stovetop and in the bathroom
- Make occupants aware of how odours and smoke can affect their neighbours
Physical upgrades to buildings and dwelling units are only part of what improves tenants’ comfort and quality of life. Awareness and communication initiatives with tenants are also necessary. The human dimension is more difficult to manage but it is part of a property manager’s job.
Please share your creative solutions for these issues in the Comments section below.