Photo: James Bombales

For tenants and landlords alike, the leasing process can often turn into a disorganized scramble of events. Back-and-forth messages across multiple online listing sites, endless in-person showings and a rush to organize paperwork frequently characterizes the negotiation and application phases of renting.

Now, one Canadian real estate tech startup is looking to deliver clarity to a historically disjointed rental landscape with its transparent application process.

Hailed as a tool that brings ‘renters and property owners together,’ the team at Rhenti has built a platform that connects both sides of the rental transaction through its centralized cloud software. Using the hub’s ‘Apply Anywhere’ technology, prospective tenants can use their detailed Rhenti profile to inquire about and apply to apartments through top listing websites, while streamlining all of their communication with landlords through a single platform.

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Rhenti’s multiple-site integration also helps to draw more viewers to listings for property owners, in addition to providing automatic marketing services and online lease signing tools.

Founded in April 2016, Rhenti was created by a group of individuals who met while attending the MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. As renters, the team found leasing an apartment to be a fragmented experience.

“It’s kind of a very fragmented, disjointed process that becomes opaque and cumbersome and there’s no accountability, and so, from that fragmentation stems a series of problems that affect renters,” Tomas Ronis, founder and CEO of Rhenti, told Livabl.

“We started to look at it from the perspective of ‘How do we solve those things for renters?’ by creating a platform that unifies all of these fragments,” he added.

Image: Rhenti

After formally launching the platform in 2019, Rhenti now services hundreds of landlords — big and small — and thousands of rental users, with operations mainly focused in Ontario.

COVID-19 has upended urban rental markets, which have seen shrinking demand and falling prices throughout 2020. But in the past, finding an apartment in renter-dense cities like Toronto meant fierce competition among wannabe tenants. In a world where a listing can be gone in a matter of days with several interested applicants all vying for the same unit, Rhenti aims to give renters an edge with the help of its professional-looking profile and ‘Apply Anywhere’ features.

Rental users start by building their online profile, which includes the typical application requirements like contact information, documents, references and a free credit check report provided by TransUnion, in addition to voluntary personal details and preferences. By creating one centralized profile, Rhenti says that it eliminates the need to fill out rental applications multiple times.

Image: Rhenti

“Timing is important, no matter what way that you look at it,” explained Ronis. “Getting your offer in quickly is always good, and so what’s really neat about our ‘Apply Anywhere’ feature is that you build your profile, you build your whole renter passport and then you take it with you.”

When a prospective tenant submits a listing inquiry through Rhenti or any one of the major rental websites Rhenti is integrated with, such as Rentals.ca, ViewIt or Padmapper, their contact information is shared with the landlord. Rhenti verifies each listing by connecting with the landlord directly to confirm details and proof of ownership, eliminating the risk of fraudulent apartments. All conversations and real-time messages are funneled back through Rhenti into one place, so long as the tenant has the listing party’s email address and phone number.

Whenever a renter decides to ‘Apply Anywhere,’ their in-depth application information is shared with the landlord on their Rhenti dashboard. Users are also notified when other applicants have applied to the same property.

“In most cases right now, the process is opaque. You have no idea how many people you’re up against, so that can be a very anxiety-prone process,” said Ronis. “We try to give you the transparency and the tools to kind of lessen that anxiety and give you a bit more power in that transaction.”

Photo: James Bombales

The ongoing urban exodus trend sparked by the pandemic has seen many tenants leave downtown cores or move back in with family. More privacy and less dense housing arrangements are higher on the priority list, Ronis said. Meanwhile, shifts in the rental market are awarding tenants more negotiating power these days.

For landlords who are navigating these new rental market waters, Rhenti claims to help get their listings in front of more renters with access to the MLS system for a fee. Ronis explains that between 40 to 60 percent of renters shop on non-MLS channels, and don’t have a tendency to cross-shop on MLS sites.

In addition to an automated booking and end-to-end lease management systems, the software provides a real-time pricing tool that can inform landlords on how to adjust their rates according to local trends. The onset of COVID-19 caused virtual viewing tools to explode in popularity, and in March, Rhenti deployed virtual tour features that would assist with socially-distanced viewings.

“One of things that we’ve always wanted to do is help the transaction happen 100 percent online, fully digital, no need for in-person interactions,” said Ronis. “We checked that box pretty early on.”

As the Canadian rental market continues to evolve in light of the changes brought about by the pandemic, Ronis says Rhenti will ‘double-down’ on creating renter-focused tools, while empowering them to tell their rentership stories.

“The majority of renters kind of see homeownership as the mecca of living or housing. But we actually want to say, ‘No, renting is a lifestyle choice.’ You get flexibility, and you get mobility, and you get lots of really great things out of it that you don’t get as a homeowner, and you should be proud of it. You should feel empowered by it,” said Ronis.

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