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apt411: A useful resource for tenants in Halifax

Web developer creates tool to rate and review landlords and buildings in the HRM

by Jon Grant

Cara Gammon: web designer for apt411 (photo courtesy Cara Gammon)
Cara Gammon: web designer for apt411 (photo courtesy Cara Gammon)

Cara Gammon, web developer and partner at boom12 communications, has created a people-powered solution to weed out 'slumlords' in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Gammon's new website apt411 allows anyone with an internet connection to rate their landlord and the apartment building they are renting, as well as add comments which future renters may find helpful.

"The goal of the website is to give people a resource for information about rental properties that is beyond what they see in a Kijiji ad" and to "provide some accountability to the people who are renting these properties," says Gammon.

Similar websites such as ratemyprofessor.com and Yelp exist for rating professors at universities and restaurants respectively.

"I was really surprised that no one had done something like that for renting,” says Gammon.

The website does not require users to create an account for apt411. You simply add your address and the website generates a listing. The website is user-friendly and anonymous.

apt411 allows users to state whether the apartment was noisy and safe, as well as what utilities were included with the rental and a brief comment section to add any additional details.

Tenants in Halifax have gone public with the substandard living conditions of their apartments. While there are resources available, such as Service Nova Scotia's residential tenancies department, many believe not enough is being done to hold landlords accountable to the residential tenancy act.

Social justice organization ACORN has been advocating for rent control and a landlord registry which would require landlords to have buildings inspected by the municipality to ensure that properties measure up to existing minimal housing standards. This registry would have lasting effects on tenancy rights in Halifax; a service like apt411 would also allow potential renters to read firsthand accounts from past tenants about nuances in rental experiences and issues which arose throughout the duration of the rental.

Gammon stated that while all demographics are affected by tenancy issues, it is crucial to target students in regards to their rights.

"With a city that has such a high turnover rate, with all the universities around, people are in and out of a place in a year and some people don't have the time to go through the tenancy board, and mediation hearings, and all this stuff you need to go through in order to have justice served," says Gammon.

Because some students only rent during the school year and return home during the summer, many do not have the time to undergo the mediation process.

"There are so many students ... that move in and out of apartments, the amount of time and effort that it takes to go through that process and get what you deserve, is too much for a lot of people, so a lot of people simply don't do it," Gammon says.

"Right now, if you have a shady time with a landlord and you take them to the tenancy board, and went through a mediation hearing, and got what you wanted out of the mediation hearing, the tenants that come after you still have no idea,” she adds.

apt 411 is still in its infant stages, but as the rental property database grows the resource will become more useful.

A similar service, The Leak, exists in Montreal but the service is limited to that city. Gammon stated that the design of apt411 allows her to create new directories for any city through the use of Google maps.

Gammon shared horror stories about renting in Halifax and explained them as a reason for coming to the realization that Halifax required a tool such as apt411.

"It's not a revolutionary idea. I think it's something I would want to look at before I rented a place," she says.

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