Apartment search site Apartable courts renters with landlord litigation data

Avishai Weiss
Avishai Weiss

A new apartment search website is attempting to differentiate itself from competitors by offering users data on litigation associated with properties up for rent. Apartable today launched a building directory feature that provides renters with profiles of nearly 300,000 residential buildings in New York City, company founder Avishai Weiss told The Real Deal.

The goal is to give renters a sense of the overall market, the players in individual neighborhoods, and “more transparency into who you’re about to sign a lease with,” said Weiss, who previously worked in advertising. His real estate experience comes from his own house hunting, which he said always “sucked.”

Apartable does not have outside investors, and Weiss said he is covering costs out of his own pocket. The service is free for renters, but charges landlords and management companies to list rentals on the site. Weiss declined to disclose how many users the site has amassed since launching about a year ago.

A slew of rental search websites — such as Naked Apartments, Nestio, Rentenna, Urban Edge, Urban Compass and Zumper — has cropped up in recent years, all a variation on the theme of providing a better experience for tenants than working with a real estate broker or using the granddaddy of all the search sites, Craigslist.

Like some of its counterparts, Apartable details information on landlords’ management portfolios — partly culled from city Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation and Development records — including tenant complaints filed to the city and city-issued violations, spanning rat infestations to inadequate heat.

The site also adds lawsuits filed by HPD against landlords.

So far, Apartable has information on 1.9 million building violations and 89,000 pending suits, though the latter includes only a note that the suit is pending, rather than details on the allegations, and does not cover suits filed by individual tenants.

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“If a building has a lot of lawsuits against it, that means something,” Weiss said. The same applies to lawsuits piling up across a landlord’s portfolio, he added.

At the same time, the site cautions that “past or pending litigation isn’t necessarily indicative of a serious problem with a building or landlord.”

One of the landlords in the directory is TF Cornerstone, which Apartable pegged as the Financial District’s second-biggest landlord after Metro Loft Management. Its profile lists five violations and no lawsuits at its buildings across the city. Rose Associates, identified as Chelsea’s biggest landlord, has a total of 727 issues, including an open lawsuit at 48 Seventh Avenue regarding an access warrant, the site says.

Apartable aims to have more litigation details as the directory grows, Weiss said.

“Transparency is key in transactions,” said Anthony Lolli, CEO of rental brokerage Rapid Realty and a real estate investor, of the rental market.

On the broker level, the presence of greater information in rental deals limits liability, he said, and “it will make landlords clean up their properties a little bit more.”

But, of course, owners can get slapped with unfair violations due to clerical errors or for other reasons, and the need for balance is necessary, Lolli added.