Temple grad's rate-the-landlord site has promise

Ofo Ezeugwu promotes his WhoseYourLandlord.com website at Temple Fest. In April, he and his team won $20,500 in Temple's Be Your Own Boss Bowl.
Ofo Ezeugwu promotes his WhoseYourLandlord.com website at Temple Fest. In April, he and his team won $20,500 in Temple's Be Your Own Boss Bowl. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 26, 2014

It would seem to anyone with a mastery of grammar that Ofo Ezeugwu blew it with the naming of his company, WhoseYourLandlord.com.

That certainly was the reaction of his freshman English professor at Temple University when he visited a table Ezeugwu was manning on campus to promote his landlord-rating website.

"I know I taught you better than this," Ezeugwu recalled James Mellis telling him. The name should be Who'sYourLandlord, teacher told former student.

But that would be missing the point, Ezeugwu explained to Mellis and, last week, to me.

"We use the possessive form of who because we're giving renters ownership of their situation by putting housing in their hands," Ezeugwu said.

The idea started, as so many rental experiences do, with mice and cockroaches. But in a good way.

"My apartment had mice and cockroaches, but I had a great time because my landlords were awesome," Ezeugwu, 22, said of his off-campus lodging while a student at Temple, where he majored in entrepreneurship.

In his junior year, Ezeugwu was running for vice president of the student body. During a late-night campaign strategy session, Ezeugwu floated a platform idea:

"What if students would rate their landlords? That way, those coming in after them would know what to expect before signing a lease."

The students "really gravitated" toward the idea, said Ezeugwu, who won the election.

He and his associates - a classmate at Temple and a friend at George Mason University in Virginia - launched WhoseYourLandlord.com in October 2012, in Ezeugwu's senior year, soon attracting ratings on the site from more than 500 students.

Ezeugwu became convinced the idea had serious potential after he graduated when, in the fall of 2013, he and his partners introduced WhoseYourLandlord.com to 12 universities and were enthusiastically received.

There had only been sites to rate apartment buildings but not the actual human element behind their upkeep, Ezeugwu said.

"We didn't start it to bash landlords," he said. "The intention was to hold people more accountable for their actions."

Up to that point, the website had been funded primarily from Ezeugwu's income as a model and fledgling actor. In April, he and his team won $20,500 in Temple's Be Your Own Boss Bowl.

Another break came in June, when WhoseYourLandlord.com was accepted into Rose Tech Venture's real estate tech accelerator in New York. That came with $10,000 and invaluable access to David S. Rose, founder of New York Angels, an investment group, Ezeugwu said.

In the last 18 months, WhoseYourLandlord.com has had 28,000 users, and it currently contains about 1,000 ratings, Ezeugwu said.

An effort to broaden the site's scope to include landlord reviews by urban professionals starts Thursday with the WYL Million Rating Challenge. For every rating posted on WhoseYourLandlord.com through Nov. 28, 10 cents will be donated to Just Heart Help, a Maryland-based nonprofit founded by Ezeugwu's parents that provides educational assistance and other services.

There is no cost to leave a rating or to log on to the website. So how does Ezeugwu expect to make money?

He said landlords have expressed an interest in advertising on the site. Other businesses have, too.

Immediately hooked on WhoseYourLandlord.com was Anthony Lolli, a real estate investor, developer, and entrepreneur, and president and CEO of Rapid Realty, a New York-based real estate agency focused on rentals.

Lolli was a judge at a Fordham University business-incubator program where Ezeugwu and his team presented in January, and has been serving as board adviser to the company ever since.

"I thought it was very original," Lolli said in an interview last week. "There isn't anything that rates landlords and gives a database for renters to pick from."

Of the company's potential, Lolli added: "There's riches in niches."

Not much older than the college set he serves, Kyle Gagliardi, 23, of Manayunk, is a landlord with four properties in Glassboro, renting to Rowan University students.

He said he plans to pay for inclusion in WhoseYourLandlord.com's landlord listings when that feature becomes available, expected in January.

"I feel that this website would really help good landlords," Gagliardi said. "It allows the good landlords that are stuck with the stigma of the bad to kind of shine."


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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