Why you should care
Because your landlord has a lot of power over your life.
“Home ownership.” If mere mention of the phrase makes you choke on your soy chai latte, you’re likely someone who doesn’t think about renting as a temporary solution so much as a potentially lifelong reality.
Yes, a lifelong reality of rental applications, and of prospective landlords sizing you up. Landlords who trawl through credit histories and pay stubs, call up references and demand deposits of various sorts. Which is all good: After all, a property owner should have the right to ensure the user of their property for an extended period of time is reliable. But it makes us — the renters — wonder why the scrutiny doesn’t go both ways. The very roofs over our heads are at stake, but we have no way of knowing which landlords tend to hike rents by 20 percent, or let a leaky faucet go unaddressed, or skimp on boiler repair. That’s why we think it’s time for a Yelp for landlords.
There’s currently a huge asymmetry between available information on landlords and on renters. We can easily find reviews for doctors, professors, lawyers, drivers, schools, workplaces and furniture. We can find out what Jim from Queens thinks about that bowl of soup he had the other day, and thousand-word treatises on Amazon on items as innocuous as can openers. A Yelp for landlords would work in exactly the same manner as the aforementioned sites, allowing tenants to rate and review their experiences with landlords to give prospective tenants a helpful resource.
Why should a new tenant have to learn the hard way that garbage trucks park under their bedroom window every morning …?
Kevin O’Leary, founder and CEO, ReviewMyLandlord.com
Of course, renters do have a lot of rights in most states. Sean Aronin, a landlord with seven properties and roughly 50 tenants in Philadelphia, says he’s had problems with some tenants who “know all the rules and use them to live for free as professional squatters.” Screening tenants, Aronin says, is important “to make sure you don’t end up with a tenant that uses the law to not pay rent.” He does acknowledge that the cookie crumbles both ways, that many tenants don’t know their rights and, as a result, they “can be taken advantage of by negligent landlords.”
Yes, yes, tenants can “vote with their feet,” and move on from a bad landlord situation — although that can often be a costly and stressful process. Likewise, breaking a lease may well involve going to court to prove your right to do so, another financially and emotionally taxing endeavor. And that’s not taking into consideration the things more difficult to quantify: withheld security deposits, slow response time, bad attitudes and massively unfair or unexpected — yet still legal — rent hikes purposefully calculated to push long-term tenants out.
The idea of a Yelp for landlords isn’t entirely new. ReviewMyLandlord.com, in fact, already provides such a rating system. Founder and CEO Kevin O’Leary created the site after a chance encounter with the tenant of an apartment he was looking at who warned him against living there. “Why should a new tenant have to learn the hard way that garbage trucks park under their bedroom window every morning when the previous nine tenants could have told them?” O’Leary asks, adding, “Since landlords start with a ‘clean slate’ for each new tenant, this allows them to continue poor service or behavior without any consequences.”
This kind of system isn’t without its challenges: O’Leary says ReviewMyLandlord.com makes conscious efforts to ensure the site “does not become another battleground for grudges to be settled.” People are encouraged to write reviews in a factual, unemotional manner; “controls and workflows” are implemented to curb abuse or libel; and users are even actively solicited to post about positive experiences. Fair enough, and yet, at the very least, there should be a service for renters, akin to a dating site, that lists qualities of landlords and their expectations of tenants, which would allow us to make better value judgments before entering into a contract. Tinder for landlords, anyone?