Tenants play a central role in the success of high-efficient refurbishments. They are confronted not only with a series of technological changes but also with interferences of their daily routines. The use of innovative technologies and the achievement of envisaged energy reductions are highly dependent of the acceptance of the resident population. The individual opinion as well as financial possibilities of tenants might differ and, hence, have to be analysed and taken into account.


The housing agencies involved in SINFONIA have experience in the refurbishments of their building stock. Nonetheless, renovation activities that require regular access to the apartments (e. g. installation of ventilation systems) and lead to strong interferences with the tenants are rare. Smart refurbishment measures require innovative methods for the involvement of tenants. A learning process was initiated that included the test of different involvement strategies and methods comprising of all levels of participation (information, consutlation and co-decision-making).


Involvement strategies and methods


Refurbishments of lived-in buildings require innovative strategies and methods in order to achieve the necessary acceptance on the part of the tenants. Experiences in Innsbruck and Bolzano show that concerned residents do not welcome refurbishments with open arms but rather have doubts and reservations. Consequently, housing institutions had do make considerable persuasive efforts to convince tenants about the benefits of the refurbishments. The involvement of tenants is oriented on extracted key messages. The applied methods comprised of all level of participation, as listed below.

Involvement on the level of INFORMATION

  • Regular tenant assemblies
    The holding of tenant assemblies in every single SINFONIA building is the classical instrument used by housing associations to inform their tenants about upcoming refurbishments. The assemblies mostly serve as a first contact point between tenants and responsible representatives of the housing associations. The focus of the meetings lies on transparency and preciseness of information, including technical solutions, costs or timescales. Furthermore, the meetings set the environment for further discussions.
  • Information brochures and journals
    Information brochures and journals are used to give a general insight in advantages of energetically relevant refurbishments. In addition, they contain relevant news on the buildings.
  • User manual for tenants
    A user manual transports important information on the technical innovations of the refurbishments and their appropriate application. It shall assist tenants with the proper use of new equipment in order to achieve envisaged energy savings in the refurbished buildings.
  • Possibility to visit demo apartments
    The housing associations offer their tenants the opportunity to visit apartments similar to their own that have already been refurbished. As a result of these visits, tenants gain an idea about how their future flats will look like and how they will be technically equipped. The installation of demonstration apartments is considered a suitable instrument to communicate advantages of envisaged refurbishment measures to the tenants.In Bolzano, tenants had the possibiliy to visit a demo apartment in each of the five SINFONIA buildings. The travelling exhibition with the title “Qui vivo meglio | Besser wohnen” had a common format that is partially adapted to suit the different technologies implemented in the five refurbished houses.The following process phases of the demo apartments can be distinguished:

    • building site inspections
    • installation and determination of opening timing
    • definition of the product sample supply that will be exhibited
    • communication of the event to the residents

    The first event “Qui vivo meglio | Besser wohnen” was launched on the 27th November 2017 at the IPES building in Via Brescia-Cagliari. Tenants were personally invited by the IPES tenants representative. SINFONIA experts were present at the event and guided visitors through the exhibition.

    SINFONIA demo apartment © EURAC

Involvement on the level of CONSULTATION

  • Questionnaire surveys
    The SINFONIA tenants were consulted via two questionnaire surveys, one as an ex-ante questioning before the refurbishments started and one after they were completed as an ex-post questioning. The first survey gave insights in the tenant´s energy behaviour and allowed the housing associations to gather information from their tenants who are considerable experts on their respective apartment. It also gave tenants the possibility to express requests and opinions on the actual state of their building. This input, when feasible and affordable, were considered in the design competitions for the refurbishments.
    In order to avoid multiple questioning and to minimize time of effort for tenants, all SINFONIA partners (with specific information needs) were included in the compilation of the questionnaire items. Data collection was often assisted by personal consultation through the housing associations – resulting in high return rates (up to 90%).

Download relevant project publications below:

sprites_doc2_variante2-final Ex-ante questionnaire for tenants

Analysis of the tenants questionnaire survey from a communication perspective

Ex-post questionnaire for tenants

Involvement on the level of CO-DECISION-MAKING

  • Holding of interactive workshops
    Tenants were invited to participate in workshops that aim at the active sharing of knowledge with the tenants. This was beneficial to both sides. The tenants gained detailed insights in the forthcoming interventions and could actively contribute to them. The housing associations could benefit of the inside knowledge of the tenants. By the workshop format tenants was given the possibility to voice their wishes and concerns about the refurbishments. During the workshops, tenants, representatives of the housing agencies and refurbishment experts discussed details of the refurbishments in focus groups. Topics of the focus groups were selected based on results of the tenant survey described before. The workshops improved the relationship between tenants and housing associations and ultimately, increased the acceptance of the refurbishment and evaluation activities.
  • Possibility to refuse single refurbishment measures in spcial cases
    Tenants in Austria have the legal right to refuse refurbishment measures that require the access to their apartment. Housing companies inform the tenants to allay their doubts regarding the planned and on-­going activities via personal consultation, tenants meetings or via the property management.
  • Tenants’ Representative as a mediator between building owners and tenants
    The Tenants’ Representative is a privileged channel that favors ease and transparency of communication between the municipality and the tenants, regarding the energy refurbishment activities of the buildings included in the SINFONIA project.
    Further information on Tenants` Representatives in Bolzano is available here.

Involvement in Sets of Solution



Legal background

Legal provisions of tenancy law differ from country to country but also within the countries. Social housing companies in Austria, for instance, are amenable to the “Austrian non-profit housing act” (German: “Wohnungsgemeinnützigkeitsgesetz”). The financing of refurbishments depends largely on the housing subsidy models, which are subjected to the provinces´ law since 1987.

In Austria tenants don´t have to give their permission for measures on the facades, envelopes of the buildings or the home entrance doors (competence under the law rests with the landlord), but tenants can refuse the entrance to their flats. This can inhibit refurbishment measures such as the exchange of windows. Concerning measures in the flats, tenants in Austria do have the legal right to refuse these or the affected tenants must register their agreement, respectively. Forcing tenants to the refurbishment measures in their flats by legal process, if indeed possible, can lead to delays of about one year. Several measures applied in the SINFONIA buildings required the access to the aparment, like the installation of centralized heating systems, mechanic ventilation systems or a system for monitoring of energy consumption. For the necessary approval of tenants for both, refurbishment of the building envelope and the interior, housing companies try to convince the tenants of the advantages of the single refurbishment measures via personal consultation, tenant assemblies, an ombudsman or via the property management to allay their doubts.

In the case of social housing in Austria a percentage of tenants´ rent forms the so called Conservation and improvement contributions (Erhalt- und Verbesserungsbeitrag). Maximum amount of the contribution depends on the age of the flat and is defined by the “Wohnungsgemeinnützigkeitsgesetz”. These contributions serve for the financing of building maintenance activities. However, if the Conservation and improvement contributions are not sufficient for the refurbishments envisaged, at least 75 % of tenants have to give their approval for the increase of the contribution.

In Bolzano, there are no legal provisions that tenants have to give their approval to refurbishment measures. In principle, the housing company is the owner of the building and has the primary responsibility to carry out and to bear the cost of refurbishment measures on its building. Tenants do not financially participate in building maintenance and consequently, they usually do not have any active role in selecting and implementing refurbishment measures.

The Italian tenancy law compels tenants to grant access to their apartment in case of maintenance or refurbishment measures. It is subject to the Provincial law (L.P. n. 13 of 17.12.98, ss.mm.) and to the Municipal Rules for the Management of Social Housing (Regalement Gestione Case Comunali – Deliberazione Consiglio Comunale n. 59/12784 of 29.04.97), in addition to the rental contract. In accordance with this, the relationship between householder and tenants is assisted by the figure of the housekeeper that is elected by tenants separately for each building.

Summarising, tenants in Austria can be affected by rent raises, as they have to contribute to the refurbishment costs. They have the legal right to refuse the entrance to their apartment. This strong legal status of tenants is a challenge for the refurbishments, since single tenants have the power to object and stop refurbishments of a whole building. Tenants in Italy do not have this right. In Italy total refurbishment costs have to be covered by the building owner.

More information on challenges of refurbishments in lived-in apartments is available here.

Social challenges

NHT and IIG tenants in Innsbruck have once got their apartment assigned by the city of Innsbruck. To qualify for social housing, the applicant needs to fulfill a number of requirements like low income, special family situation, or health problems and the like. Flats in social housing complexes have a rent far below the general market price. Accordingly, the social structure of the tenants is to some extent challenging. Comprehensive refurbishment projects like SINFONIA demand intensive preparation, not only related to building construction and energy, but also in respect to social issues as tenants stay in their flats during the refurbishment.

A range of individual fates documents the social challenges of energetically relevant retrofitting projects of inhabited buildings. The real life examples from Innsbruck listed below provide a cross section on how single fates may have influence on smart city refurbishments all across Europe.

Each tenant has his or her own history and demand, which may reveal unforeseen challenges far beyond technical barriers. Thus, it is highly advisable to foresee additional time and costs. During the SINFONIA refurbishments in Innsbruck, for each of the examples listed below a personalized solution had to be found. Housing agencies should consider this challenge in the refurbishment plans.

  • Example 1: Loss of living space and custom-made furniture
    Ms. P extended her living space to the glazed loggia, where a boiler is installed and a sitting bench mounted. Her custom-made kitchen furniture reaches to the ceiling. No space for radiators is foreseen. In the course of SINFONIA retrofitting activities, the new loggia will be outside the thermal envelope. The extended living space will be lost. The ceiling has to be lowered to install a ventilation system. Radiators need to be mounted. The custom-made kitchen has to be fundamentally reworked with the consequence that its unique design and functions are lost. Additional costs for the reconstruction of the kitchen are not budgeted.
  • Example 2: Psychological problems
    The balcony door of Ms. X is always open. She takes care of a number of dogs that sleep on the balcony. Her apartment is in a mess. She is upset about her neighbours, because she thinks that they are ventilating cold air into her apartment. She is mentally disturbed and calms herself down by hitting a screwdriver into the floor and walls of the apartment. How will she react on the refurbishment activities?
  • Example 3: Bedridden & disabled tenants
    Ms. K. is 84 years old. She is bedridden for weeks and not able to attend tenant meetings. She receives confusing bits of information from her neighbours and friends about the planned refurbishments. Four years ago she installed a new gas heater and new ceilings. She was advised by the consumers protection agency to demand a transfer-fee from her landlord for the ceiling and the heater. She is afraid of a „strange pipe“(automatic ventilation system) in her flat.
    Where will she stay during the refurbishment? Who will pay the transfer-fees and the relocation costs?
  • Example 4: Refurbishment – twice?
    Family Z. refurbished their apartment at own expenses in the recent years. In 2014 they installed a new kitchen, a new low-energy heating system and the bathroom was refurbished. New windows were installed in 2012. The apartment provides a high quality of living with low energy consumption. The family members strongly doubt the sense of a second refurbishment in the course of SINFONIA.




The involvement of tenants is a key factor for reaching the goals of smart city refurbishments. The following recommandations can be deduced from the experiences in SINFONIA:

  • The consultation of tenants via a questionnaire survey is recommendable to collect information about the specific refurbishment objects.
  • Preferences and needs concerning behaviours, habits, knowledge, and energy topics should be integrated in the organization and contents of information and consultation meetings.
  • Meetings should be held in a language that is comprehensible for the tenants.
  • Tenants should always get first-hand information. They should be the first to know that their building is going to be refurbished.
  • A constant and transparent information flow before and during the refurbishments shall be provided to the tenants.
  • Information on monetary aspects of the refurbishment (e.g. rent raises) shall be transparently described, since it is essential to tenants.
  • Enabling of co-decision-making guarantees that tenants bring in important inside knowledge beneficial to the housing associations. The possibility of co-decision-making increases the acceptance of refurbishments exceptionally.
  • Formats of participation have to be considered in budget and time plans of the refurbishments.
  • The training of tenants is a key factor for reaching the estimated energy demand of a building. It is decisive that the applied training methods comply the requirements and preferences of the tenants. These can be indentified via a questionnaire survey.