Student rental website to launch this fall

URentWise, created by a U alumnus, allows students to review area rentals.
July 31, 2013

University of Minnesota students will be able to share their rental experiences and view other students’ property ratings online starting this fall.

URentWise will enable students to rate, research and comment on hundreds of properties.

The site is only available to those with a University email address. Currently, students can submit reviews of most University-area properties but can’t read reviews posted by others.

The website may partner with different University entities, including the Minnesota Student Association and the Office for Student Affairs, which have both have expressed interest.

MSA has offered a way for students to learn about rental properties since 2004, when they first started compiling data for its annual Renters’ Survey. The results are posted on MSA’s website.

URentWise creator, University alumnus Adam Arling, said he came up with the idea three years ago as both a renter and a University senior active in community relations work.

The website, which Arling modeled on user-driven websites like Rate My Professors and Yelp, fills a need for University-area renters who may fall victim to poor-quality rentals or landlords, he said.

The website uses listing information from the City of Minneapolis and has recently added many St. Paul addresses.

Beginnings

In 2012, when Arling was a neighborhood liaison working for University Student and Community Relations, he discussed his ideas for a website with the Office for Student Affairs and members of MSA’s Facilities, Housing and Transit Committee.

Arling said he’s still deciding on possible partnerships, and the decision will depend on the different stakeholders involved and what resources each can “bring to the table.”

Former Facilities, Housing and Transit Committee co-director Phill Kelly said Arling approached him in 2012 and said he was working on a rental rating website.

After MSA had technical problems posting survey results online, the committee looked to create a more stable site using a student programmer, professional developers or a University office.

Committee members were wary of using a student-led startup website and weren’t able to provide any of their own resources to host Arling’s project online. They decided MSA would work with a professional company to host survey results, Kelly said.

“I told Adam to come back to us when he was further along in developing the site,” he said, “and then we’d give it some more serious consideration.”

Possible collaboration

Two years have passed since Kelly’s conversation with Arling.

A committee member is meeting with Arling this week about a possible collaboration, Kelly said. It’s possible the Renters’ Survey could be hosted through the URentWise platform if MSA and Arling’s startup agree to partner.

MSA could either hire Arling’s URentWise team on a contract basis to build a Renters’ Survey website, Kelly said, or MSA could make a licensing agreement with Arling and use the existing URentWise website for its own purposes.

Kelly said MSA is currently bidding on a number of different host websites, including Arling’s.

MSA was quoted $75,000 with a 10 percent annual licensing fee by another company last fall, Kelly said, a cost out of the group’s price range. University Student Legal Service and the Office for Student Affairs could help cover the cost, he said.

University support

Last month, Arling also requested input from Marie Fischer, assistant coordinator with Student and Community Relations.

Arling said he spoke with Fischer about what her office would like to see from the website and what aspects would be most useful to students.

Fischer said if Student and Community Relations partnered with URentWise, the office could contact students who write “particularly scathing” reviews of properties.

In that case, Fischer said, the students may have legal power against a landlord.

“I think empowering students to make better [rental] decisions and hav[ing] more information about what’s out there is really important,” Arling said.

Besides rental listings, Arling said the site will also include legal resources for renters.

“One of the big issues being a renter is that you’re new to this whole market,” Arling said, “and often you don’t access information you should know until it’s too late.”

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