Press Release: Supervisor Wiener to Introduce Water Conservation Legislation Requiring Water Meters for Each Unit in New Multi-Unit Buildings

Legislation will require all new residential buildings to install water submeters for each unit so that residents can be billed individually, just as they are with electricity, and thus have greater incentive to conserve water

San Francisco Today, World Water Day, Supervisor Scott Wiener will introduce legislation to require water submeters to be installed in all new residential multi-unit buildings. Separately metered units will allow individuals to know how much water they are using every month, and allow property owners to bill tenants individually for their water use, which will encourage people to conserve water. The legislation applies to all new buildings with two or more residential units.

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A water meter (Source: Wikipedia)

“Addressing our structural water shortage requires systemic change in how we think about, use, and conserve water,” said Supervisor Wiener. “A key starting point is actually knowing how much water we use as individuals and being accountable for that use. Without this information on a monthly bill, people may not feel the same need to reduce water consumption as they do with electricity, which is already submetered. Water is not an endless commodity, and submetering our buildings will give residents crucial information to help conserve this precious resource.”

The legislation requires all new multi-unit buildings to install submeters for each unit. It also sets rules and regulations for how property owners will be allowed to bill tenants for water. The legislation includes strong protections for the rights of tenants, including establishing transparent and fair billing and noticing procedures, setting clear rules around liability when there are leaks or other service issues, and providing the right to appeal any disputes about meter readings.

Without submeters, a building only has one master meter, which the property owner then uses to allocate water cost to the entire building. This leaves building residents with no economic incentive to reduce water use, as the costs are shared across entire buildings or absorbed by the landlord. In some cases, a landlord can be penalized for excessive water use while being unable to induce tenants to reduce water use in order to avoid penalties. Submetering will also help building owners by providing them with more data about water use and the ability to more quickly identify high water users and leaks.

There have been efforts in California over the last number of years to increase the use of submeters in residential and commercial buildings. San Diego passed a submetering ordinance in 2010. A study done before that ordinance found that installing submeters reduces water use by 15% to 20%. A bill in the State Legislature to require submeters in new construction did not move forward last year. The California Green Building Code already requires submeters in new large commercial buildings.

Supervisor Wiener has prioritized water efficiency legislation. He previously authored legislation making San Francisco the first city in the country to require water recycling in new developments and has pending legislation to make it easier for homeowners to install simple water recycling systems in their homes.

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