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Combating Landlord Fraud

Horror stories of NYC apartments that don’t work out are tales as old as time. Everyone has one, and most of them start the same way. Everyone needs a place to live, preferably with access to nice bars and restaurants, and not too far from the subway they take to get to work.

The viewing goes well enough, but way too quickly, and in the afternoon, so there’s no way to see all the gorgeous light it gets in the morning. Our scrappy tenant needs a place, and it’s close enough, so screw it, let’s go through with the lease signing. After the humiliating probe into credit scores, bank statements, employer letters, all eyed contemptuously by a building manager, the landlord begrudgingly accepts. Then comes the scramble for thousands of dollars in cashiers checks, for security deposit, first month rent, and brokers. This is a process designed to intimidate and humiliate. A process for which there is no landlord equivalent.

Once in an apartment, should there be any condition undisclosed during the search process, then it’s tough luck on the part of the tenant. For example, a noisy subway or bar directly underneath the apartment. Or chronic issues with vermin, heat or hot water. These are existing conditions the landlord is typically aware of, but unwilling to disclose, as landlords and management companies are incentivized to fill vacancies, not to ensure tenants enjoy their stay.

Luckily, as more data becomes available to the public, smart folks are starting to put together publicly available tools to help tenants make smart decisions about where they live. My own simple project, Block Quality, will summarize 311 complaints to paint a picture of what problems have occurred at a given address. Entire organizations like Heat Seek have formed to address the issue of tenants being denied heat and hot water. Rent Logic assigns grades to tenants, allowing tenants to know exactly what they’re getting into.

Published Dec 14, 2016

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