We live in an apartment that has a lot of gaps in the doors and windows and poor insulation in the walls. Is there a way to make the landlord fix this? Some sort of property codes or something? He doesn't seem to want to fix it on his own. We live in San Francisco for what its worth.

  • 1
    Advective losses trump conductive. This means focus on gaps and ignore insulation. Spray foam and foam strips are cheap. DIY.
    – mankoff
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


This is the classic agency-dilemma,or principal agent problem.

THe one who should bear the cost, the landlord, doesn't see any immediate benefit; and any indirect benefit may be, or be believed to be absent. The landlord should bear the cost because, at least in theory, in a well-functioning market, a landlord would be able to earn higher rent on a well-insulated apartment. The one who benefits is the tenant, who gets the warmer, more comfortable apartment, and lower heating bills.

So, the cost is to the landlord, the benefit is to the tenant.

There are at least four ways out of this.

  1. The best way, at the macro level, is to get your municipal authority to introduce landlord licensing, and allow only properties that are well-insulated to be rented.

  2. offer to share the costs of insulation with the landlord. Perhaps you know someone who can do the work to a high quality cheaply, or you can source cheap materials, or you'll redecorate after the insulation is done. Or if you've got a guaranteed tenancy for 5-10 years, and expect to stay there that long, pay for it yourself.

  3. offer to share the benefits of insulation with the landlord. So once the insulation is in, you pay more rent.

  4. Many municipal authorities do have some controls / regulations on rented properties. The type of regulation, and (crucially) the level of enforcement, varies hugely. But in many places, there are regulatory standards that say a place rented for habitation, must be habitable. If you have a relatively enlightened authority that has the resources to enforce such a regulation, then you may be in luck. First find out which department would be responsible: in England, it would be Environmental Health. It may be Housing, or something else, where you are. Talk to local tenant-support organisations, and local environmental groups - they may know of successful precedents.

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    I'm not a fan of #1, unless the landlord is truly neglectful of his tenants and/or the property. At least not as a first try. You also forgot the other obvious option in a capitalist society: Move to an apartment with better insulation (probably after telling the current landlord that you will move if he isn't willing to install insulation there).
    – Flimzy
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 20:27
  • Moving is not always possible if you are on a lease or in a competitive rental market.
    – shoul25
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 0:10
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    #1 would probably work in SF. For readers in fly over country, be advised such a tactic will probably get you ostracised and later thrown out of the apartment as soon as the lease expires. Don't be surprised if you get turned down on a lot of rental applications in town. Many Real Estate Investment Associations keep "problem tenant" lists. Tactic #1 will certainly get your name on it.
    – OCDtech
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 19:32
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    One real problem with #1 thought is that regulation has energy costs. The city has to hire people for enforcement, permit processing, etc. and these people use energy in their work, use energy to get from home to work, etc. A highly regulated society requires a lot of cheap energy to function (why Rome managed via pillaging and we do ok with fossil fuels). I am not sure it is sustainable. Agreed on the other options though. Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 5:20
  • #1 Licensing is a bad idea as it will increase the cost of the unit. The landlord has to pay to get licensed. Then he has to pay to bring the unit into conformance with the requirements outlined in his license. That all costs money. He will recoup this money by charging the tenant more money. Insulation is not free. Want cheap rent get a place without insulation.
    – nu everest
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 16:41

There isn't likely to be a way to require him to do anything. You'll have to try tact.

Maybe offer to do the work yourself, if he buys the materials. He'll be glad to have his property improved, as long as he trusts you with the work.

  • That's always a good arrangement. I've had this arrangement with numerous landlords and was rarely turned down when requesting something new.
    – Walter
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 12:22
  • Either this or offer to pay for it all yourself are the only options that are likely to fly. In the SF geography the economic payoff for better insulation is near zero. However, in SF social climate it may make his property slightly more marketable. Tell him if there's another Enron he can advertise great insulation to get higher rent.
    – OCDtech
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 19:28

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