Review site tips power back into tenant’s hands

From left, Felix Addison (COO), Ofo Ezeugwu (CEO) of with ABC News Production team representative.
Photo courtesy of ABC News

The first major task for anyone moving to a new country, state or city is securing a place with running water and a formidable roof to call home.

Without knowledge of the housing markets, the laws associated with the housing authority and more, many are quick to sign leases without adequately understanding their rights as a tenant.

Stepping in to act as a buffer between tenant and landlord is Ofo Ezeugwu’s review website “Whose Your Landlord”, providing a rating system tipping power into the tenant’s hands.

“We use the possessive form of the word “who” because we’re giving renters ownership of their situation by putting housing in their hands,” Ezeugwu, CEO, details on his website.

The Temple University grad started the website in 2012 while running for vice president of Temple’s student body in his junior year. Whose Your Landlord’s initial purpose was to allow student’s to rate their landlords in the surrounding area’s of the university’s campus to help steer the next generation away from poor housing situations. Since then, it has expanded to include more than 40,000 users in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and more.

Most review sites allow for you to rate a business or person’s services through a star system. To ensure a minority group isn’t calling wolf for their one bad experience, Ezeugwu and his team comprising Felix Addison, COO, Nik Korablin, CTO and Phil Meyer, creative director created a system that relies on a personality test and qualitative information to create a less biased score.

“When we first started we had sliders from one to 10 which was a bad thing because if you love your landlord you’ll just give him all 10’s and on the flipside of that if you hate him you’ll give him all ones even if he did do better in some areas. We remasterd our whole review process and made it in the sense of a personality test where you answer seven to eight questions that’s limited to answers that are predisposed in front of you and you pick what fits you best. You don’t see the answer until the very end so you get the fairest and unbiased information,” he said.

For new Caribbean immigrants moving to New York and other major cities, Ezeugwu notices common red flags are ignored by those simply happy to have made it to the states unaware of the power they hold. Common missteps for new renters are incomplete checks of the building to scout for holes near electrical outlets and faucets, which might indicate a rodent or roach problem and failing to ensuring that water runs in all sinks. Another issue unique to Caribbean immigrants or people of other cultures is the language barrier. For those with strong accents or looser understanding of English, landlords are able to use that to their advantage when ironing out details on the lease.

“I met a woman once who was paying $800 a month for rent which isn’t bad for New York but her heat was off and her water wasn’t running but she was just happy to be here. You have people that are ok with it for the wrong reason because they just think that this is the way it is not realizing there are laws and regulations their property managers have to abide by,” he said. “A lot of times for Caribbean immigrants they have a strong accent or don’t speak the language and landlords use that to get over on them. We don’t realize how much power we have or what resources we have in front of us and because of that property managers and landlords have an infinite power especially in cities like New York where it is very competitive to get housing,” he said.

To combat the prevalent issue, Ezeugwu urges new residents to always bring along a friend who can act as a third party witness for any verbal exchange between the tenant and landlord. “If you have a neighbor or a friend nearby that speaks English very well, anytime you’re interacting with them especially if it could potentially be a legal problem, I would have that person in the room as a third party. They can break things down very clearly or effectively communicate what you’re saying to that landlord. Also, you’ll have a witness for the words exchanged,” he added.

Ezeugwu is working tirelessly to continue growing his site to expand into other markets such as Seattle or Cleveland. He believes that the information collected by his site allows for a sense of transparency and accountability into housing businesses that will help improve tenant-landlord relations.

“If you can go on a review site like ours and post information about these businesses, that information is very impactful and it can be in a great way or a bad way. It’s all about transparency,” he said.

Log on to “Whose Your Landlord” to help guide you on your next house hunt or upload your own review for your landlord.

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aoliv[email protected] Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.

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