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cityscape

Public Works: Learn the Nasty Stuff About a Building Before You Move In

A new data standard promises to bring much-needed transparency to your apartment hunt.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

You can’t believe your luck. The place is spacious, it’s clean, it’s right in your preferred neighbourhood, and the rent is reasonable. Even the landlord seems pleasant, by Toronto standards. (“Apartment available. Bring references and all your money.”)

And then you move in, and find the unit upstairs is apparently occupied by a troop of step-dancing chimpanzees. And was “Redrum” written in blood on that wall when you toured the place?

A few weeks ago, we talked about how open data is changing the relationship between citizens and their cities. Now there’s a new data standard being rolled out in the U.S. that could help prevent surprises for would-be tenants.

The House Facts Data Standard will allow municipalities to report health and safety data on residential buildings in a uniform format that can be accessed and used by third party apps and users, such as real-estate sites and other consumer platforms. This means information about noise complaints, garbage piles, rat infestations, and other documented risks and nuisances can be made easily available online to prospective renters or purchasers.

The new standard was developed by the City of San Francisco, non-profit organization Code for America, and some industry partners. Several organizations have already expressed interest in making use of it, including Trulia, a popular U.S. real-estate site that boasts 22 million unique visitors a month.

At present, only San Francisco is actively using the standard, but five other American cities, including Las Vegas and Kansas City, have already committed to releasing relevant data in the new format within the next two months.

There’s no word yet on when the House Facts Data Standard—or something similar—might arrive in Toronto.

Hat tip to Atlantic Cities.

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