It's happening in big cities all over the country. A strong economy and the rapidly growing tech industry are creating an influx of people who need a place to live. Despite ongoing construction, the supply of available housing can't keep up with the demand. Many tenants are left feeling lucky to find a rental at all.
Only some are luckier than others. Horror stories abound of roaches, bedbugs, bad plumbing, faulty heating systems, and other instances of neglect that leave renters wishing they could be anywhere else. Only by the time they discover the problems, they've already paid a security deposit and signed a lease they can't easily get out of.
Yale Fox, founder of Rentlogic, wants to change all that. The company's website functions as an apartment rental search engine (kind of like Zillow), but it combines rental information with publicly available information on tenant complaints registered with the city. Its algorithms assign each rental unit a letter grade from A+ to F-. Prospective tenants can use the site to limit their searches to well-maintained rentals, or to check out a possible rental before they commit. For now, the service is offered in New York City, but Fox plans to add other cities as Rentlogic grows.
A few years ago, he had a bad experience in a $4,000-a-month New York City rental that he shared with a roommate. He moved out, but wound up in court with the landlord. "I realized the kind of pain and frustrations renters go through," he says. Around the same time, New York City began putting its landlord complaint data online, so Fox and his team created an algorithm that could pull that data and add it to Rentlogic's listings. "We're using data that has been verified by building inspectors," Fox says. "We're not using crowdsourced data."
Better yet, if the apartment you were planning to rent turns out to be a dud, Rentlogic will find you a better-maintained option in the same neighborhood and at the same price. This is easier to do than you might think. According to Fox, responsible landlords charge about the same rent as neglectful ones. "If you're living in a C building for $3,000, you might as well live in an A building for $3,000," he says. "And if you're going to put down $30,00 a year or more for rent, you should have an idea of what you're getting into."
Getting good grades.
To further help renters find well-maintained apartments--and also reward good landlords with a useful promotional tool, Rentlogic has also begun offering letter-grade signs to landlords that they can display at their buildings and/or on their websites. The signs are similar to the health department letter ratings some restaurants in New York City display in their windows.
Fox is hoping that the stick of poor Rentlogic ratings, combined with the carrot of a high grade they can display will inspire landlords to make the right choices when it comes to maintaining their buildings. "A lot of people think we're in the real estate space, but this in the smart cities space," Fox says. "There are 1.1 million rental units in this city and you can't police all of them. The rating system has the ability to convince some bad landlords to correct their own behavor. What we're trying to build is housing enforcement on auto-pilot."
Here's Fox's TEDx talk about Rentlogic: