Before I was a CEO, I was a landlord. Before I was a landlord, I was a renter.
When my partners and I started Rhino in 2016, we held a unique perspective: affordable housing is a two-sided issue that needs a two-sided solution. If saving renters money was actually better for business, landlords would get on board.
We quickly found inefficiencies in the leasing process and discovered that the solution was sitting there right in front of us, dormant for decades. We could save renters thousands and help landlords fill more vacancies quicker with a simple move: get rid of security deposits.
Security deposits are a classic example of an absurd, but accepted status quo. Even the most qualified applicants are required to pay large amounts up front to cover damage that probably won’t happen. The craziest part is — there is already a solution to this problem that is widely employed in other industries.
Imagine you’re renting a car for the weekend. You’ve photocopied your license, filled out all the paper forms and provided a valid credit card. The agent is about to hand the keys over when they say ‘just a minute — we’ll need a $5000 cash deposit first.’
You’d be enraged, right? Why would you be required to leave a pile of cash with your Hertz agent when there is already a standard (and sensible!) way to protect them from damage that may or may not happen in the future: liability insurance.
We decided to apply that same model to apartment rentals and Rhino was born. For an affordable monthly fee, any renter can purchase a policy that protects their landlord against damage or loss that may occur during their lease term. No cash upfront. No worrying about getting it back later.
The need on the renter side is becoming more apparent by the day. 40% of Americans don’t even have four hundred dollars available for emergencies, never mind a full month’s rent just to sign a lease. The percentage of Americans who rent their home is nearing an all-time high and they’re starting to speak up. For the first time in history, renters are being addressed as a voting bloc on the campaign trail.
Across local and national elections, on both sides of the aisle, affordable housing is being treated as one of the top issues facing our country. Just last week, Albany passed a slew of rent reforms. And presidential candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren have already proposed bills intended to directly address the issue.
“We’re not going to solve our housing crisis by nibbling at the edges,” Warren was quoted, “We need to tackle it head-on with big comprehensive solutions that match the size of the problem we face.”
As the great debates prevail on the campaign trail and in statehouses across the country, it’s important to understand, there’s no silver bullet — housing affordability is a massive, complex issue with many stakeholders. And solving the crisis is going to require many changes to many aspects of the real estate industry — including new design and construction standards, better urban planning, updated rent regulations, and ultimately increasing transparency and choice for renters. And of course, since it’s 2019, we’d be remiss if we did not leverage the new technologies and innovations across the real estate industry in those efforts to tackle the affordability crisis.
Rhino’s mission is to provide better access to affordable living and working spaces nationwide. We are proud to be part of the third wave of tech companies building solutions that are creating a new normal that doesn’t require financial stress or burden but actually provides relief and empowerment. In just the last two years, Rhino has won adoption across hundreds of thousands of rental homes across the country. As a result, we’ve saved renters over $25 million in the last year and driven over $125 million in new leases for landlords.
These types of innovations are the starting point for industry-wide reform that benefits everyone and, like our namesake, we intend to keep charging ahead.