UC Berkeley senior Dana Rebitz would have benefited from knowing the quality of her Benvenue Avenue apartment before she moved in this semester. Her landlord failed to tell her about the apartment’s lack of a screen door, the mold growth in the bathroom and the fake thermostat that had promised indoor heating.
“We didn’t even have a screen door … until my mother yelled at (the landlord),” Rebitz said in an email. “About every other month, I need to take a bucket of bleach and scrub the (tub) … or it turns from off-white to gray/pinkish/moldy abomination.”
The headache of searching for housing and a lack of institutional knowledge to prevent landlord abuse prompted seniors Michael Ellison and Lucas Zucker to start the Berkeley Cribs website — a rating site that allows students living in the residence halls, apartments and Berkeley Student Cooperative housing units to rate and review their living experience.
“The most stressful thing a student has to do is find housing, whether you live in an apartment, the dorms, or the co-ops,” Ellison, who is also the Housing Director of the ASUC, said. “The only thing students have is Cragislist, which is sketchy and doesn’t provide that much information.”
The website — a joint project between the ASUC, CALPIRG and the ASUC Renter’s Legal Assistance, which provides legal help for students who have issues with their landlords — is set to launch at the beginning of the spring semester, and will only be open to UC Berkeley students with a school email address.
Ellison also added that the site will not allow ratings of fraternities and sororities when it is first launched because students join the Greek community for different reasons than solely finding a place to live in Berkeley.
“Most people who live in frats and sororities live there for different reasons than why they would live in apartments,” he said. “We were also worried about people harassing fraternities and sororities through the ratings system.”
The project, to be sponsored by discretionary funds from the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President, will be headed by the Cal Housing Commission, a currently defunct ASUC commission that will start up again this year to generate a body of discussion about housing issues predominantly relating to students.
Zucker said that the number one goal of launching the site is to make sure it does not cost any money to use.
“There is a similar objective with Cal Rentals, but few students use it largely because it costs money to use,” Zucker said. “There is no way that college students would pay for it, and that’s why people use Yelp.”
Justin Sayarath, a Student Action Senator on the City Affairs Lobby and Housing commission, said that the website will provide information for legal assistance and allow students to rate and talk about their apartments in a private space where landlords do not have access to the posts.
“I think it will be a great resource to students and allow them to make informed decisions about their housing choices,” Sayarath said.
A previous version of this blog post incorrectly stated that funding for the project will come from the ASUC Office of the President. In fact, it will come from the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President.