NYT Article on “Why Isn’t There a Landlord Blacklist?” Raises a More General Question

That question is asked in a September piece by Ronda Kaysen in the Times Real Estate Section.

The author points out the data about tenant available to landlords, including from databases of eviction cases culled from court records.

Renting an apartment in New York City is an exercise in financial exhibitionism. By the time you are offered a lease, your future landlord knows your salary, savings and credit history, down to that unpaid Verizon bill from four years ago. If a past rental dispute ended up in housing court, good luck getting the new apartment, because he probably knows about that, too.

The article includes the sad story of how an attempt by rentlogic.com to partner with a rental brokerage floundered.

In comes Rentlogic, a company that started about six months ago on the premise that tenants deserve to know how well landlords maintain their properties — before they sign a lease. Rentlogic compiles data from complaints and violations filed with city agencies for 1.1 million residential buildings. About 300,000 of those are rentals with some amount of turnover; the company also tracks condominiums and co-ops.

.  .  .

On Sept. 2, the Real Deal reported that Citi Habitats, one of the largest rental brokerages in the city, would begin displaying its listings on Rentlogic, which works like a typical listings website, with one big difference. The listings include a letter grade and a summary of problems like bed bugs, mold and safety violations. If you click on a listing with a poor rating, Rentlogic suggests similar apartments with better scores.

A deal with Citi Habitats, which has around 18,500 available listings in its database, meant that Rentlogic could vastly expand its reach, even though Citi Habitats planned to provide only listings that received an A or B grade. Rentlogic already had about 3,000 listings a day, drawn from other brokerages and open listings sites.

.  .  .

But by Sept. 10, Citi Habitats had pulled its listings from the site, after fielding calls from angry landlords. “The landlords are upset and saying, ‘We don’t want you guys participating in this,’ ” Daniel Charles, a spokesman for Citi Habitats told me after the deal fell apart.

Enough said.

More generally, tehe question is how can consumer advocacy use the same kind of big data tools that landlords do to provide this kind of information to the public in many many product areas.

Some of the potential Sources of data:

  • Integration of state consumer protection data
  • Integration of federal agency complaints
  • Integration of state and federal court data against companies, including for discrimination
  • Additions to consumer comment sites like Yelp.

Remember, that the problem with many of the comment sites is that a few possibly not genuine comments can skew the whole result.  Aggregation would minimize this risk.

It would probably also be helpful to integrate sites that provide other information about providers, such as glassdoor.com, which provides reviews and scores by current and former employees, and which I have found very consistent with my own experience.

As a general principle, data about the company from many sources is likely to give you a sense of its ethics and priorities, which will impact any experience of dealing with it.

What’s the business model?  maybe it could be offered by newspapers as part of their online subscription package?

Maybe it could be funded by Cy Pres and consumer protection awards and settlements.



About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice Generally, Consumer Rights, Evictions, Federal Agencies, Federal Courts, Housing, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to NYT Article on “Why Isn’t There a Landlord Blacklist?” Raises a More General Question

  1. Jim Greiner says:

    Hi, Richard, great post. I’ve long felt that we have a lot to learn from the organizational structures of those in power. Here’s another example: the organizational structures of debt collection law firms. Word of mouth suggests these firms often have high ratios of quasi-professionals/support staff to lawyers and make extensive use of technology, including commoditized (form) legal pleadings and papers. Many legal services organizations have exactly the reverse ratio, and at least a few work on typewriters. Imagine how many more clients mightbe served, with more effective service, if legal services organizations were willing to experiment with their organizational structures.

    Obviously, one might have a thought or two regarding the organizational structures of law schools. Abolishing the tenure system would be a great place to start.

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