Israeli Website Seeks to Name and Shame Price-gouging Landlords

New website hopes to lower prices by publicly chastising price-gouging landlords and calling on potential renters to boycott overpriced apartments.

In the spirit of the tent encampments springing up throughout the country to protest the high cost of housing, a new Web site is looking to harness the anger over prices and give renters a tool to use against landlords it believes are price-gouging.

Dirometer calls on users to share their experiences with landlords by warning away potential renters from apartments in which the landlords raised the rent this year.

tent protest - Michal Fattal - 02082011
Michal Fattal

The site allows renters to report on landlords who raised or lowered their rent, and by how much. The map on the site provides visual markers of the reported apartments in cities throughout the country.

"Demonstrate social solidarity, and before you go to see an apartment, check if it appears on the site. If the landlord has raised the rent since last year, don't go see the apartment! He'll just do the same thing to you next year," the site managers write.

"We believe the protest against housing prices has to include other tools besides pressuring the government," said Roi Ron, one of the creators of Dirometer. "We thought it would be worth exploiting our consumer power because there are a lot of people who don't want to pay these high prices.

"On the other hand, unlike with products such as cottage cheese, for which it is easy to organize against the stores, it's much more complicated to organize a protest about apartments against landlords," Ron continued. "We thought if we had a tool with which we could band against them and convey an unambiguous message, it would be a lot simpler."

Dafna (not her real name ), 31, a resident of Tel Aviv, might be a prime candidate to use the site. She and her partner live in a rental not far from Tel Aviv City Hall. A few weeks ago, their landlord told them he was raising the rent by NIS 1,900 - from NIS 3,600 a month to NIS 5,500.

"All this started happening when I was in my eighth month of pregnancy," Dafna said. "We found ourselves with our backs to the wall, in a situation that makes moving very difficult."

Dafna and her partner have been living in the 67 square meter apartment for seven years.

"It's a ground floor apartment," Dafna said. "It's not a typical moldy Tel Aviv apartment, but it was renovated in the most basic fashion around 10 years ago. There isn't much air or light; it's a bedroom, living room and a balcony."

For several years, their rent went up gradually - NIS 200-300 per month each time. This year, though, the landlord told the couple that they were paying a below-market rent.

The impending birth and the knowledge that moving would entail other expenses led the two to decide to stick it out another year. After lengthy negotiating, the couple got the landlord to agree to accept NIS 5,000 a month.

"This is just another tragic story, one of many stories about housing in Tel Aviv," Dafna said.