I proposed this to my university back in 2006, after a fellow student ran into two landlords in a row who violated legal agreements and state law. When they spoke to Student Legal Services, they discovered – too late – that many other students had similar problems with those landlords. I used to knock on random doors in apartment complexes to get a feel for the neighborhood, but that’s not nearly so practical anymore.
So here is my proposal – one I don’t have the ability to do myself. I think it would be especially useful for students and active-duty military personnel, since they move so much and need a candid, honest appraisal of the situation. The few I’ve seen previously are commercial ventures rather than something based in the needs of a particular population (again, students or military members).
So what are your thoughts? Could you – or would you – use such a service?
RATIONALE OF NEED: An acquaintance recently moved. She has had numerous problems with her landlord – including violations of state law. When she contacted the university Legal department, the lawyer recognized the name of the landlord; she had taken advantage of students before.
SOLUTION: Create a wiki (definition at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikis ) or a PHP based message board within the university website with the express intent of students sharing experiences with landlords in the area.
Credibility: This would be a collection of user experiences, nothing more. Minimal editorial needs would be similar to that of services such as http://ratemyprofessor.com. The intent is not to replicate the Better Business Bureau, but to enhance word-of-mouth customer experiences.
Security/Authentication: Being under the university network umbrella would inherently restrict access to students and faculty.
Abuse: With tracking/login already handled by the university system, abuse could be easily monitored and corrected.
Resources: Server time and space for both wikis and messageboards need not be large. Further, ready-to-run packages for both exist as open source or freeware, meaning minimal startup costs.
Value: The value of the service will depend entirely upon the number of students who use it. However, financial and emotional hardships created by bad landlord situations drain resources from students – potentially leading to reduced income for the university – and from the university itself in additional demand on legal services.