Kathryn Kosmides said she wishes she’d had better tools to help her navigate moving last month. After landing a marketing position at a financial tech company, Kosmides, 23, moved 2,700 miles to New York City from Reno, Nevada.
She used Craigslist and Podmapper to find an apartment, and worked with a broker who gave a FaceTime walkthrough tour of her apartment. When Kosmides received her keys, there were paint cans all over the apartment and the landlord still had to make repairs from the previous tenant. She’s been sleeping on a neighbor’s bed since.
“It’s disgusting to me but he refused to put me up in a hotel,” Kosmides said. “All I want to do is move into my apartment.”
Kosmides added that she and her boyfriend who is also relocating have already spent $10,000 on apartment fees. After the start of her apartment fiasco, she learned about Rentlogic, a tool that allows renters to review landlords and buildings before they sign a lease.
After getting hip to the site, “I went on there and saw he has a C rating,” Kosmides said, adding that she plans to use the site next time she moves.
Yale Fox, Rentlogic’s founder, had multiple similar experiences to Kosmides. The first was with Steve Croman, the Manhattan landlord who harassed and sued rent-stabilized tenants to force them out.
That’s why he started the Rentlogic, whose goal is to gives renters more power and information when making housing decisions.
“Landlords hold all the power, even in an ecosystem where all the broker fees are paid by the renter yet they don’t really have any say and they don’t know what they’re getting into before they sign a lease,” Fox said.
The site’s team is in the process of securing funding from venture capitalists and forming a steering committee. The founders borrowed money from family and friends to launch the product. Fox said the company is not releasing its funding model until the first quarter of 2017.
The website pulls in official government data about landlords and buildings. The data includes 311 complaints and violations. It takes about a week for violations to be confirmed by city inspectors and integrated into the system, according to Fox. Similar to Yelp, tenants can also write reviews on the site.
It’s the renter’s equivalent of the tenant blacklist, giving grades for landlords based on seven years of information.
For 15 years, landlords have had a blacklist for tenants. People on the blacklist have a mark on their credit reports that says they went to housing court. When a renter is added to the blacklist, future landlords don’t rent to them.
As of November 7, there were 3,929 listings for vacant units on Rentlogic, with ratings that range from A+ to F-. Over 230 of them had an F, a majority of them in Brooklyn.
Rentlogic, which has about 10,000 users per month, according to Fox, is meant to be fair and objective. For example, in rating, the site controls for a normal set of problems that any building might have.
“Individual incidents don’t really hurt the rating,” Fox said. “It’s when we start to detect a pattern with negligence.”
After all, there is no perfect building in New York City.
The team spoke to landlords, property managers, tenants, tenants right activists and city staff while developing the site. And they still work with various city offices.
Fox said Rentlogic worked with Public Advocate Leticia James on the recently released the annual landlord watch list, a database of the worst landlords in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the site in 2010 when he served as public advocate.
(Chart displays the top nine worst landlords in New York City, according to the 2016 Watchlist.)
“There’s a lot more the city can do to make a difference,” said Harvey Epstein, tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board, at the Propublica panel about illegally high rents. The watch list was one of those efforts.
Rentlogic is just one of a handful of organizations in New York City working to establish landlord accountability and fill the void of city efforts, including Heat Seek, Just Fix and Fifth Avenue Committee.
“The idea is that Rentlogic is just a level playing field where renters can find a good place to live and landlords can kind a good person to live in their apartment,” said Fox. “It’s just a fair way of doing business.”
When users find a unit they were considering has a bad grade, they also see apartments in the same neighborhood with rent equal to or less than the unit they originally sought out.
There has been backlash from landlords. Real estate agency Citi Habitats joined forces with Rentlogic then cut ties after landlords complained. Landlords have also contacted Rentlogic directly to be removed from the site, sometimes offering money. They’ve never accepted a bribe.
“That’s not what we’re about,” Fox said. “That’s not fair, first of all, which is why we don’t do it but that would also lose all of our credibility and our trust.”
The current plan is for landlord and building ratings to include violations for up to seven years, like a person’s credit score.
“Our whole purpose is just to show you a transparent view of what it’s like to live in the buildings,” Fox said.
Finding decent housing in New York is a challenge for anyone but for Kosmides, it was even more difficult. “You come from any other city and you’re not used to any of these rules,” she said. The rules usually include having an impeccable credit score and making an annual salary of 40 times the rent. “I’ve fallen in love with the city for sure but not the rental policies.”