Home ownership is plummeting among millennials, and it’s not because they eat too much avocado toast. Rent prices are rising, while incomes remain stagnant. No matter how much grit you have, these issues remain largely out of one’s individual control. However, there is one choice we all make when it comes to finding a place to live: choosing a landlord.
The right to have a responsive landlord who offers a fair lease and quality living conditions is the void Whose Your Landlord aims to fill when it comes to the housing market, allowing renters and home providers to share experiences and feedback. The site’s name uses the possessive form of the word ‘who' to underscore its purpose of letting renters take ownership of their living situation.
“We will spend 20-30 minutes just reading the ratings of a video before we Netflix and chill to it. We will spend a lot of time looking at Yelp reviews before we select a restaurant we want to pop into for an hour. The question is, why don’t we spend that kind of time and effort looking at where we are going to live before signing a lease?”
Whose Your Landlord CEO and Co-Founder Ofo Ezeugwu posed this question to International Business Times ahead of his company’s site re-design and SeedInvest campaign (50 percent of goal already raised), and we didn’t have a good answer. But he argues this is a problem with a solution.
“We tend to blindly go into living situations and a lot of times we feel restricted into doing so. We have a lot more agency of power and a lot more agency of choice,” Ezeugwu said.
It all starts with community, and that’s why Whose Your Landlord is revamping its platform. Ezeugwu (a HuffPost contributor) and his partner Felix Addison are the brains behind manyviral videos addressing public housing reform, redlining and helping tenants deal with unfair and unjust treatment. In becoming more active within the online community, Ezeugwu realized Whose Your Landlord could do more than help users find a new place to live. The platform has the capacity to allow renters to connect with each other and empower themselves to create fairer and more transparent relationships with landlords.
“What makes any community strong is the ability to not only connect with each other, but also connect about a means to an end. By allowing our Whose Your Landlord community to engage with each other on the site, we can create a stronger renter in general as we move forward in the space where rentership is skyrocketing and homeownership is plummeting. Rentership is a reality, so we have to empower, unify and inform these renters to become better consumers.”
This also means cultivating relationships with landlords, both the good and the bad. Ezeugwu sees this as an opportunity to help landlords improve, while also acknowledging those doing a fair job.
“It’s a space that has been widely unchallenged, pretty much forever. There are a lot of laws that lean the way of the landlord, but there are also laws that lean the way of the renter that people just aren’t aware of.”
As Whose Your Landlord gained footing in the market, some landlords expressed concerns about slander, libel and bad renters. And it’s no secret that many folks using a review service do tend to harbor negativity. While the platform is protected by the Communications Decency Act -- the same act that protects Facebook, Yelp and TripAdvisor -- Whose Your Landlord pays equal attention to both sides.
“Reviews are vetted, but a lot of time facts are facts and landlords don't want to acknowledge that,” Ezeugwu said, adding that he’s never had any issue with landlords escalating a complaint over an unfavorable review. “We want to know who the bad actors are out there. Positive reviews can help you figure out where you want to live next, negative reviews can help you figure out where you don't want to live next. Both are very viable.”
Founded in 2013, Whose Your Landlord has grown to 265,000 users, boasting 25 percent month-over-month growth. Seventy percent of its users are millennials, with the highest concentration of users residing in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. With 10,000 landlord reviews and 500,000 listings on the platform, there is still room for growth.
“The same way we make decisions online -- I don't want to shop here, or whatever your justification is for your boycotts or what banks you put your money in -- people are a lot more acutely aware of things now. Whose Your Landlord is tapping into that behavior shift and renters want to make sure they are getting the most bang for their buck.”