As if life for renters in big cities weren’t hellish enough, a new Bay Area startup promises to make it even more of a nightmare. Meet Rentberry.
The company, which launched Tuesday, is an auction site for rental properties brought to you by a team of pale people. Assuming this isn’t a scam or an elaborate Yes Men–style prank to draw attention to the soaring cost of housing, here’s how it’s supposed to work: Property owners list their units on the site, and then potential tenants compete to outbid each other for the privilege of having a place to live. Sounds great, right?
No, it sounds awful. The median rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is already a mind-blowing $3,560 a month, and Rentberry promises to make it go even higher. As of now, Rentberry only directly charges tenants — they must pay $25 at the time of lease signing — but the company intends to start charging landlords in the next six months or so. The plan, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is that Rentberry will charge landlords 25 percent of the extra rent they generate beyond their initial asking price each month. So, if your landlord lists an apartment for $5,000 and the final bid is $6,000, Rentberry takes a quarter of the extra $1,000, or $250 a month.
Rentberry says that it is providing a service, and that tenants will save an average of seven to 10 hours of apartment hunting through the bidding process. But while saving all of 10 hours may be worth it for top earners, for everyone else, Rentberry is just the latest threat against the non-rich in San Francisco. Plus, Rentberry could be especially damaging for people of color: The site asks renters to provide profile photos, and, thanks to reports of minorities who’ve been declined service on sites like Airbnb, we know that housing discrimination through technology is very real.
So will renters actually go along with using a service built on the premise of increasing their rent? A quick poll of renters among the Grist staff returned comments from “lol” to “fuck no” to “NEVER.”
Then again, you can see the benefit for landlords. And that’s where the real threat comes in: Even though no renter in their right mind would freely choose to use a service designed to make their rent go up, if lots of landlords start using it, they may not have much choice.
Here’s hoping Rentberry is just a scam after all.