(New York, NY) — Rental listings generally don’t include tenant complaints or fire code violations. Or course they don’t! That second-floor one-bedroom in Gramercy sounds tantalizing at $4,500 a month, but what happens when you move in and you find cockroaches and mold? You try contacting the absentee landlord several times to fix the issue, but to no avail.
Now apartment hunting here in New York just got a bit easier. You’ve seen letter grades on restaurants. Well, now, letter grades are being assigned to residential buildings.
LETTER GRADE FOR TRANSPARENCY
If Rentlogic has it, you’ll never be swindled when it comes to apartment rentals in Manhattan. Last week, the startup company, barely four-years old, announced plans to letter grade residential buildings in the same way that letter grades appear on windows in restaurants all over the city. The issues facing apartment renters is that it’s hard to know in advance if the building has several code violations. While information can be accessed on public databases, renters don’t bother because it’s difficult to follow and understand.
That will no longer be the case. Rentlogic’s program gives A through F letter grades for residential buildings based on government agency data. This data reveals which properties have mold, rodents and any legal actions against the landlord.
HOW THIS WORKS
The program works via an internet browser extension. The software takes two clicks to install and you will then quickly see landlord violations. You can access the data and look for apartments at the same time. An “A” through “F” letter grade for a building will pop up in a box and works in tandem with more than 200 rental listing sites, including behemoth Zillow and Trulia.
The browser lets you see what landlords don’t want you to see. You won’t just see a just-staged and pristine apartment. Now you’ll see the bad parts too.
According to Yale Fox, the chief executive of Rentlogic, buildings can be given high grades on his system despite occasional issues. But this is not a software glitch. “It’s when [buildings] are repeat offenders or there are signs of negligence—we penalize that.”
LANDLINE AND TENANT ROLE REVERSAL
Landlords use a tenant’s credit history and other data to decide whom to rent. Now the tables have turned. Now landlords will be scrutinized or punished, the latter of which will affect them greatly because apartment browsers will rely on the letter grade and pass on those with low ratings. As Fox emphasized, “Every industry has bad apples. . . . This is about exposing them in hopes that they adjust their behavior.”
Previously, Rentlogic used public data to help renters evaluate building managers in Toronto. Fox thought that his grade listings would be welcome in the high-stakes game of the New York City real estate industry. Instead, property agents and managers quickly quelled the program.
Rentlogic is not free of problems, though. Since Fox used seven year’s worth of data, a new management or a landlord may have fixed any problems in the interim. In this way, the software can include violations that were made by previous landlords, which is unfair to present or current ones who have cleaned up their act.
Fox’s algorithm doesn’t consider unverified complaints. He also said he’s not looking to punish violators but instead is making the rental process more transparent.
Let’s hope Rentlogic catches fire. In one fell swoop, the program gives the power back to prospective tenants who will know in advance deal breakers before plunking first and last month’s rent on a lemon. A big lemon.