New App May Help Facilitate Tenant-Landlord Communications

Smartphone AppRenters in Illinois may soon find it easier to communicate with their landlords with the help of their smartphone.

As it currently stands, many Illinois renters turn to the Metropolitan Tenants Organization when they have an issue with their apartment or their landlord. The MTO does it’s best to settle disputes and ensure landlords are providing adequate service to their tenants, but the organization, which is comprised of roughly two dozen employees and volunteers, fields approximately 10,000 calls and assists 15,000 renters each year. In order to help streamline the process, the organization has partnered with the MacArthur Foundation to develop an app to speed up communications.

The app is called Squared Away Chicago, and it has many helpful features for both renters and landlords, including:

  • Sending time-stamped photos to landlords to better diagram issues.
  • Offering a companion form to explain the problem, rate the severity of the issue, and schedule a time when the landlord can enter the apartment.
  • Keeping track of past complaints so both renter and landlord have a digital trail of past and present maintenance requests.
  • Easing the distribution of mass messages such as maintenance alerts or inspections by allowing landlords to reach multiple tenants at once.

John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, said he believes the app has benefits for both renters and landlords.

“One of the goals with the app is to create a better relationship between landlords and tenants, or at least make that a possibility,” said Bartlett. “This makes communication easy and easily documented. When you’re on the phone, it’s so easy to forget. There are a lot of ‘he said, she said.’ [This] is a little more formal.”

The Prevalence of Phones

A greater amount of low-income renters are gaining access to the web through their smartphone, and oftentimes a phone alert is the best way to reach them. According to a recent Pew Research study, 43 percent of individuals making less than $30,000 a year own a smartphone. Related studies found that the majority of cell phone owners possess a smartphone over a “feature phone,” and 88 percent of all U.S. adults own a cell phone.

Sean Sullivan, an Illinois attorney who has handled many tenant-landlord cases, said he’s most excited about the app’s ability to keep a digital record.

“As a lawyer who handles many landlord-tenant disputes, I think this is a great idea. Oftentimes these cases are difficult to prove one way or the other because they usually just come down to the testimony of two parties with almost exactly opposite stories,” said Sullivan. “I look at this as a tool that can help prove the testimony of one side over the other.”

Despite his optimism, Sullivan said it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to get a judge to admit the digital records into evidence.

“The only snag I see with this as an attorney is in terms of the rules of evidence and how to get anything from this site admitted into evidence,” said Sullivan. “As an attorney, I may know there is a document or support for my client’s story out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is admissible as evidence.”

Sullivan finished by saying the app “is a great step in the right direction, and at the very least, it can provide attorneys with more facts to support their side in settlement negotiations.”

Related sources: Chicago Tribune, PCMag.com

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