There are rats in the apartment, but no one ever comes to clear them out. The heat is broken, and somehow it never seems to get fixed.
Every city dweller has either dealt with a terrible landlord or knows someone who has. In New York City, a new nonprofit called JustFix.nyc is trying to make that unfortunately common situation a little easier to deal with.
JustFix’s first product is a mobile app that helps tenants build a legal case around housing issues. The service is primarily designed to assist people living in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments located in neighborhoods undergoing rapid gentrification – the people, in other words, who are most at risk of being taken advantage of by landlords who want them to leave.
Cofounders Georges Clement, Dan Kass, and Ashley Treni met during a summer fellowship at Blue Ridge Labs, the Robin Hood Foundation‘s in-house tech incubator.
“Our ‘aha’ moment was sitting in housing court, observing people for days, and seeing tenants come to court unrepresented with a bag of miscellaneous papers, flipping through photos on their phones to illustrate conditions in their apartments, struggling to tell their story to the judge,” says Clement, who previously worked as a product manager at General Assembly.
The team realized that tenants needed a better way of gathering and communicating evidence to make their cases.
The app, which is funded by the Robin Hood Foundation and the Fast Forward Accelerator (an accelerator for tech nonprofits), is an attempt to create that evidence-gathering system.
The app starts the process by guiding users to gather documentation and photos of problems. As they go through the service, they’re provided the opportunity for mediated (and templated) communication with landlords via texts, emails, and letters of complaint.
Violations are automatically reported to city and state agencies, and everything gets logged in a case history that can be presented in housing court or shared with an advocate (like an attorney or case worker).
“The case history looks like a Facebook timeline, but it’s pictures of [things like] rats, mold, and cockroaches,” says Clement.
After a year of testing, the app is now available to all New York City residents. JustFix.nyc has created a partnership network with over a dozen community partners, which Clement expects will drive about 5,000 tenants per month to the app.
Next up: a dashboard that allows community organizers and attorneys to keep track of open cases and communicate with tenants.
For now, you can check out the JustFix.nyc app here.