By Taha Laique
Big data and advances in online technologies are poised to revolutionize the New York City apartment rental industry. Indeed, they already have.
In the 1980s and earlier, apartment hunting in New York City was akin to the Wild West. There were few (if any) regulations or rules, so landlords could pretty much do whatever they wanted. In fact, one infamous landlord was allegedly a nightmare for tenants in the 1980s as he harassed them and refused to make repairs to the building. There wasn’t much power that tenants had then to effect real change. Sure, they could file costly lawsuits, but more often than not, the landlord had significantly more resources to fend off the legal challenges than the renters had to launch them.
However, that changed throughout the decade as tenants mobilized to protect and codify their rights. One victory was the Omnibus Housing Act of 1983, which created the rent registration system and also established a centralized authority to resolve rent issues, the Division of Homes and Community Renewal. That agency still exists to this very day.
Lay of the Land
Before this centralized system, landlords had to register their apartments, but not their rents. That enabled landlords to overcharge rents, either maliciously or by accident. With the Omnibus act, the amount of rent charged had to be reported to the government and the penalties for overcharging were steep.
In the following decades, the law oscillated between renter-friendly and tenant-friendly. The government is always trying to strike a delicate balance to ensure that New York is both livable and attractive.
More recently, COVID has shaped our lives in a myriad of ways. Our homes have become our offices, schools, entertainment areas, and sanctuaries. Notably, the pandemic has increased the speed at which our lives are being digitized.
Amidst the pandemic, many tenants view apartments virtually and sign leases sight-unseen, adding another opaque layer over the already contested habitability of an apartment. New Yorkers are known for always being ‘on the go’, and prior to quarantine a leaky faucet was a minor annoyance (if noticed at all). Today, we spend the majority of our days indoors and that same leaky faucet becomes unbearable. With an average square footage of 550 square feet for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, the problem is further exacerbated. As anxiety, stress, and psychological challenges abound, it’s more important than ever that New Yorkers love where they live.
In 2021, experts expect an influx of people returning to New York and other major cities that they fled in search of a higher-quality living. These may be former residents returning to their lives in New York or newcomers realizing a dream of living in the city (perhaps with lower rents). Wherever they come from and wherever they move in the city, these renters now rely on big data to make better decisions. Rental pricing data is becoming one of the fundamental drivers for tenants to determine whether a deal is too good to be true or, conversely, if it’s truly a good deal!
The combination of tenant-friendly laws, pandemic-induced trends, big data and technology is creating one of the best environments to date for renters in New York City.
Technology and Real Estate: The New Norm
Looking to profit from these new conditions, burgeoning tech companies are enhancing every aspect of the apartment hunting process. Want unedited video walkthroughs of apartments? Companies like Replay Listings handle that so you can get a detailed understanding of what an apartment is like without leaving the comfort of your home. Want unbiased, trusted reviews of what it’s like to live there? RentCity provides that information with thousands of crowdsourced, organic reviews and data points.
Even finding roommates is now much more accessible, thanks to the fast-growing sites like Diggz—incidentally, the Omnibus Housing Act was the first legislation guaranteeing renters the right to have roommates!. Even finding the apartments themselves is much easier thanks to Alpaca, a platform that integrates with Facebook groups to find you the best apartment available.
All of these companies leverage data and technology to provide more transparency and a sense of trust in the marketplace. Using these services, you can gather all the information you need to make a sound decision before signing a lease. Gone are the days of heading to a broker, booking a showing, and paying exorbitant fees. Also gone are the days of hitting up Craigslist and dealing with insecure transactions and unknown entities. With the newest patchwork of startups, renting has become fast,efficient and accessible.
As companies like these expand, we’ll continue to see creative solutions that make it easy to peruse multiple apartments, find roommates, and read reviews – all from the comfort of your home.
Indeed, all these revolutionary companies encourage transparency and trust, which is something the NYC rental market has needed for a long time. Current events combined with technology and big data are finishing the push that the Omnibus Act started in 1983. Only this time it’s not the government, but many private enterprises filling this vital need.
As the world and New York begin to face the hardships of pandemic recovery, there’s a silver lining that living in New York might become a little bit easier for tenants.