File this one under "Why didn't we think of that?" NY1 reports that a new website is using a letter grade system–much like the one for restaurant—to rate New York City's rental buildings. Rentlogic culls data from 311 complaints and building inspections to grade properties on a scale from A to F, and also asks current residents to write reviews, with the goal of informing prospective renters about what they can expect in the apartments they're considering.
Visitors to the site can search apartment listings, which are arranged by grade, as well as look up buildings. For the latter, along with grades, Rentlogic lists specific violations and complaints, including problems with plumbing and heating, mold, vermin, and legal actions. Searching by neighborhood allows you to view the highest-ranked buildings throughout the boroughs, and focus your search on the properties deemed "excellent" by the site.
Yale Fox, CEO of Rentlogic, says that the site's aim is to level the playing field between landlords and renters in NYC. "We'd like to create as much transparency as possible so that one day it's the norm [to know about a building's potential issues ahead of time] and people don't rent in a building without looking at the landlord/building history," he says.
Note, though, that what makes an apartment "excellent" may be in the eye of the beholder, and Rentlogic's rankings don't seem to factor in aesthetics. Take, for instance, this listing for a Park Slope one-bedroom that's been granted an A+, but comes with a somewhat outdated kitchen:
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Furthermore, rankings often appear to be based on data that's quite old. This reporter checked the grades of several of the buildings where she rented in NYC. The first, a prewar East Village tenement, gets an F, due to problems with mold, sewage, plumbing, hot water, and more. But while it's true that upon move-in, my roommates and I found mold in the closet—which our landlord sent a professional to remove—that was way back in 2005. Rentlogic also shows heating complaints that were filed against the building four years ago, and sewage problems from three years ago. (Though Rentlogic's ratings don't reflect if and when issues were resolved, you can find this information on the Department of Buildings site, which details complaints and violations, including which ones remain open.)
A Greenpoint rental where I lived for a year also gets an F due to legal action, landlord problems, and safety violations. This seems harsh but fair, given that the friends who moved into the apartment after I left had to live with a huge hole in the ceiling for months, which the owners failed to fix despite multiple requests.
According to Fox, 311 complaints about problems like these need to be taken into serious consideration. "If you think about it, a lot of emotion goes in to a 311 call," Fox says. "The first thing the operator says when you call them is, 'Did you speak to your landlord about this problem?' If you say no, they tell you to do that first. If you say yes, which is the case probably 95 percent of the time, then they send an inspector."
A prewar where I lived in Astoria earns only a C-, due to five-year-old plumbing and water problems, and more recent complaints around heat and unsanitary conditions. As a renter, I did once have to complain to management about the heating being turned on too late in the fall season, but I never noticed the supposed unsanitary conditions. Overall, I was happy with the state of the building, my apartment, and my super's responsiveness to issues. It isn't perfect, but I would grade the property more generously than Rentlogic does.
Violations and 311 complaints may not tell the full story about the quality of life inside a building; it's difficult to quantify elements like the friendliness and helpfulness (or lack thereof) of management. Once renters begin leaving reviews, though, it may be easier to get a full picture of what it's really like to live in any given NYC property.
Fox explains that the site's grading algorithm does draw from the past seven years of data available from city agencies like the Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation, and that violations will only significantly impact a rating if they are frequent. "Every violation has a certain pain associated with it, and a recovery half-life," Fox says. "So when bedbugs are verified, the rating will drop and then it will recover over time."
It's only fair that tenants are able to arm themselves with this information, he argues, since their past mistakes can impact their ability to rent in NYC: "Every landlord runs a credit check on every renter in New York City. Credit histories go back 7 years, and if you forgot to pay a cell phone bill, then it hurts your credit and affects your ability to find a new place to live."
The site is still in beta, Fox says, and is fielding feedback from users. For now, Rentlogic may be best used as a guide for what to keep your eyes open for when you're considering rentals—and what issues to ask the building's management about—before you sign a lease.
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