By Elizabeth Perry
Soon renters across Allegheny and Westmoreland counties will have a new tool to find rentals with a website designed for rating local landlords.
Good Landlords Review, a project by Narrative Justice, enables tenants to anonymously post reviews about their rental experiences. In McKees Rocks alone there are more than 800 landlords.
Shanon Hughes, the 33-year-old Hazelwood resident who created the site, sought ways to help renters and once the pandemic rental moratoriums instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic began to expire, it added a sense of urgency.
The concept for the website came out of many conversations she had with housing advocates.
“What came up quite a bit was the imbalance between tenant and landlord relationships,” Hughes said.
Courts tend to favor landlords in legal proceedings according to Hughes. More than that, Hughes said apartments owned by corporate entities have more money to drag out proceedings than a tenant ever could.
Good Landlords Review aims to empower renters so they aren’t scammed, or trapped in subpar living conditions.
“You don’t know who these folks are until you get in bed with them. This is an easy way to create accountability,” said Hughes.
“Folks living in squalor can call the health department, but if the landlord refuses to fix the conditions they and their families will get evicted,” Hughes said.
“How is that a win?” Hughes asked.
Some rental companies charge application fees and Hughes said there have been instances of landlords collecting those fees and stringing renters along with no intention of ever renting them an apartment.
Currently, the website is open for submitting reviews but is not yet searchable.
“I’m not releasing the reviews until we hit our magic number – keeping that close to my chest,” Hughes said.
Hughes said residents will be able to reference reviews once she collects enough feedback. Aaron Moore with the Westmoreland County Housing Authority reached out to Hughes to extend the project into Westmoreland County after seeing a segment about the project on local news.
“It’s beneficial because people have the right to know who they are renting from and any issues there may be upfront. [Some] landlords are more interested in getting money from tenants rather than a safe, clean and healthy environment for them. You get reviews on almost everything you spend money on… why not a review on landlords, good or bad,” Moore said via email.
There are a variety of review sites specific to different cities, like New York City and currently, Yelp has the option to review apartments. Good Landlords Reviews stands out with its 10-step rubric for rating landlords.
In addition to leaving a review, the site asks tenants these questions about their experiences; did their landlord have an ethical application process, did they experience fair treatment, fair rates in comparison to other rentals in the area, clean properties, safe properties with working smoke detectors and functioning locks? Was communication effective, how was the landlord’s responsiveness, is the apartment accessible for people who may be in need of a ramp or an elevator, respectfulness toward tenants, and did the landlord display a willingness to work with tenants through rough spots?
Hughes is leaving a disclaimer on the site stating the reviews are “opinion and experienced-based reviews; not empirical evidence.
“Currently, I'm not looking at additional vetting, particularly because I'm not sure how to do something like that ethically. Instead, it functions like any other review site,” Hughes said.
The Narrative Justice Project began in 2018, with the intention of “naming and unpacking all forms of narrative violence for the safety and protection of individuals, communities, and society.”