A startup that rates apartment buildings drew the ire of landlords, then won (some of) them over

By Nathan Tempey  | April 10, 2018 - 10:00AM

Canadian transplant Yale Fox started his company Rentlogic in 2013 after a jarring experience renting from Manhattan landlord Steve Croman. Allegations of Croman's neglect of his buildings and aggressive tenant harassment have garnered headlines for decades, but it took the state attorney general building a mortgage fraud case against him to finally get him arrested in 2016, too late for it to be of any help to Fox.

Nowadays, Steve Croman is most of the way through a year jail sentence at the Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as the Tombs, and Rentlogic is busy ranking New York City apartment buildings based on the persistence of maintenance issues, giving each address a letter grade like those the Health Department makes restaurants display in their windows. 

"I first dismissed it, to be honest," landlord Arik Lifshitz of the firm DSA Property Group tells us of his reaction to Rentlogic on the most recent episode of The Brick Underground Podcast. "Because it seemed like yet another wide-scale approach to what I consider to be a very nuanced problem."

Lifshitz explains that, in a portfolio of seven similar buildings bought at the same time and managed by the same super, the one F grade was because of "one resident that used to call the city on us day and night." Fox clarifies on the episode that only inspector-issued violations factor into building grades, not complaints. Nevertheless, this sort of complaint from landlords was prevalent enough that it reportedly prompted the brokerage Citi Habitats to scuttle a partnership with the site a few years back. 

Fox says that he understands the gripe, and in fact he's a landlord back in his native Toronto, though he rents his apartment here in New York. To address landlords' concerns, he is now beta testing a methodology to allow building owners to contest their grades. Under the new system, owners can hire third-party inspectors to perform a Rentlogic-directed building walk-through to determine new grades.

"We've kind of come to a place where we feel is right down the middle, that's fair for both parties," Fox says. "We want to be advocates for good tenants and good landlords, not just for one of them... We don't want to be policing everybody. We just want to come to a fair middle ground."

Fox and Lifshitz also shared tips on how to find an apartment, how to get repairs as a renter, and how to negotiate your lease renewal.

Listen to the full episode here, or by pressing play below.

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