The Cozy Blog

Introducing Cozy Criminal, Eviction, and Background Checks

Written on July 14, 2015 by Chris Rivard

We’re pleased to announce the release of Background Checks as part of our Tenant Screening Tools. It’s now easier, faster, and more affordable than ever to find qualified tenants for your rental properties — and potentially save you money down the road.

We’ve partnered with Checkr, the provider of a modern background check service that accesses state and county criminal and eviction records. Paired with our tenant credit reports, powered by Experian, you now have even more information to make a leasing decision.

tenant background check

Cozy background checks are easy, secure and accurate. They're also completely FCRA compliant. You don’t need to worry about on-site visits, storing Social Security numbers, or paper forms. Background checks can be requested and viewed from anywhere on any device.

Incomplete tenant screening can be costly: the average cost to evict a problem tenant can exceed $10,000, which could be avoided with a complete background and credit check. Best of all, these screening tools are completely free for landlords. Purchased together, Cozy credit reports and background checks cost applicants just $34.95, or $19.95 each.

“The introduction of background checks represents one more step in our mission to democratize technology to make renting less painful for everyone,” said Gino Zahnd, CEO and founder of Cozy. “Paired with credit reports that don’t hurt tenants’ credit scores, a reusable online rental application, and fee-free online rent payments, we’re well on our way to making renting easier and more secure.”

Cozy tenant screening reports are integrated with Cozy’s free rental application, where landlords can get all of the information about their applicants in one place. For landlords who prefer to use their own rental application, all they need are their applicants’ names and email addresses to run a background check and credit report.

Diversity at Cozy

Written on June 22, 2015 by Rachel King

There's been a lot of conversation lately about the tech industry's diversity problem, and possible ways to make things better. A variety of Portland tech companies, including Cozy, have signed a pledge to actively improve diversity within the tech community. Cozy had an all-hands meeting to talk about signing the diversity pledge and brainstorm ways we could work toward the goals stated in the pledge.

Cozy is overwhelmingly white and male. This isn’t surprising given tech's diversity problem and Portland's lack of racial diversity in general. (According to the 2010 census, Portland is 76.1% white.) It’s also an unacceptable status quo.

What Cozy Is Doing Already

I came to Cozy after attending the Recurse Center in New York City for three months. Frankly, RC spoiled me. They do really well at diversity, and work very hard to maintain a welcoming environment. For example, they have a set of social rules meant to ensure that the Recurse Center will remain a safe space for everyone.

One of the reasons I love Cozy is that Cozyans seem to have internalized RC's social rules without me ever needing to explain them. My coworkers excel at providing a space where I am comfortable asking questions and expressing ignorance about new topics. No one speaks over me. My opinions, on coding and other topics, are valued.

I also think Cozy does a good job with the hiring process. Our engineering interviews aren't designed like a frat hazing ritual; instead they're designed to showcase how you'll work with your potential coworkers. The interview process focuses on pairing and problem-solving using real-world examples, rather than whiteboarding or being quizzed about algorithms. As a junior developer looking for my very first developer job, I actually enjoyed the interview process at Cozy. Having a realistic interview process is essential to removing bias against people without prior professional coding experience or a Computer Science degree.

So Cozy has a great hiring process and working environment, which is half the battle. What about the other half, finding underrepresented groups to hire in the first place? That's where Cozy has the opportunity to improve the most.

What We Need to Do Better and How We're Going to Do It

During Cozy's diversity discussion, we brainstormed ways to reach out to underrepresented groups during the hiring process. We've tried to do this a little bit in the past; when we first start the search for a new support tools developer, my manager delayed posting the job opening on our website in an attempt to allow myself and another female developer time to reach out to our professional networks and find people from underrepresented groups to apply first. On one level this is awesome, because as a woman in tech, my professional network is mostly other women in tech. On another level, this isn't extreme enough because my professional network is mostly white women, since it's mostly people like me. (This is why just hiring through existing professional networks is a problem, of course. Nepotism does not encourage diversity.)

So what else could we be doing to reach out to potential employees? We currently only post job descriptions on tech sites. We need to get better at reaching out to people who don't yet have tech jobs but might want one. We could start advertising jobs at local universities and community colleges. We could also reach out to special-interest groups like Pyladies and Women Who Code.

There are also some specific topics we can start focusing on immediately. For example, one of the goals stated in the diversity pledge is to "educate staff on unconscious workplace biases." This is a very clear-cut goal that we can immediately start working towards by organizing an anti-bias training or workshop.

Just because we're doing some things well, it doesn't mean we should get complacent. There is always room to do better. I’m excited for further discussion to find solutions and to continue improving our culture and diversity.

Further Reading

  • Kate Heddleston's blog, especially the post on onboarding and team debt.

  • The Parable of the Polygons, about how small individual biases turn into a large cultural bias.

  • "It's Just Not Good Enough: Why Diversity in Tech Efforts are Still Failing" by Terri Burns in Model View Culture 2015 Quarterly No. 1.

  • The interview with Nicole Sanchez, also in Model View Culture 2015 Quarterly No. 1.

The Distressing Reality of Minimum Wage and Rentals in the US

Written on June 15, 2015 by Gino Zahnd

Wal-Mart, Target, and a host of other companies have recently announced that they'll be increasing the starting hourly rates of many employees, which is still below a $15-an-hour minimum wage that some have suggested. In the absence of any major changes to the federal minimum wage ($7.25), a lot of cities, counties and states have started enacting their own laws.

We decided to take a look at our data — gathered from actual current rent payments, not vacant apartments or listings that have been readjusted to the market rate — to see how affordable rentals are in major cities across the United States, based on current minimum wage laws. Spoiler: it's grim, and even one-bedrooms are out of reach in many metro areas for even a couple earning two incomes.

There are only 168 hours in a week, meaning that, in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, it's actually impossible to earn the local minimum wage and still afford a one-bedroom apartment - unless you have as many as five people living in a 1 bedroom space. That reality isn't limited to only big cities, though. Have a look:

Minimum Wage Rental Affordability

You can also download the PDF here: Rent and Minimum Wage

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you aren't familiar with Cozy yet, we're a service that helps landlords and tenants with rent payment, rental applications, and run credit reports.

Introducing New Payment Settings for Landlords

Written on June 11, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

A few weeks ago, we hinted at some upcoming improvements to rent payments on Cozy, along with a new payments processing partner. Now that the migration is complete, we're excited to announce the first of several planned new features.

Today's updates are incremental changes, but based on feedback we've heard from property managers and landlords, they'll make it even easier to collect rent using Cozy.

1. You can now add account nicknames

Account Nickname

You've always been able to use a different bank account for every property you've added on Cozy, and now you can sort them more easily by applying a nickname. This is especially helpful if you've got multiple accounts at a single bank, which may appear identical at first glance.

2. You can also replace bank accounts in bulk

Account Nickname

If you'd like to replace one bank account with another, we've made it much easier to do that in one step.

These are just the first few improvements we're making to Cozy rent payments. Stay tuned for additional updates and new features in the coming months.

Questions to Ask Potential Renters

Written on June 05, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

If you're a new landlord, you might be wondering what questions you should ask potential tenants. Cozy is here to help with a free rental application, which applicants can even fill out from their mobile phones, that covers all the basics.

Here's what you should ask potential renters (or have Cozy do it for you free!):

  1. Are you applying with co-applicants? (Everyone over 18 that's going to be living in your unit should be on the lease.)

  2. Do you have pets or require parkting?

  3. Where do you work, and what's your employment history?

  4. Do you have any other sources of income? (This is particularly important if 30% of the applicants' wages can't comfortably cover the rent.)

  5. Where do you currently live and what's your rental history? (Many landlords like to call previous landlords to make sure they've found a reliable tenant.)

  6. Do you have any references you'd like to provide? (Given that you're likely renting to a stranger, personal references can help you get a clearer picture of the applicant.)

  7. Have you ever filed a petition of bankruptcy?

  8. Have you ever been evicted?

  9. Have you ever refused to pay rent when it's due?

  10. Have you ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor other than a traffic or parking violation or the simple posession of a controlled substance?

  11. Have you ever been convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance?

  12. Do you smoke tobacco products?

Most likely, you'll also want your applicants to provide a credit report, which you can request for free from Cozy. The credit report provides valuable additional information about their financial situation that can help you ensure they'll be able to pay rent on time each month.

If this all seems daunting, don't worry! Cozy integrates all these screening questions — along with the credit report — in one place. Even better, once you've picked your tenant, you can also use Cozy to collect rent, for free. Sign up for Cozy's free landlord tools today!

Exciting Updates to Cozy Payments

Written on May 21, 2015 by Chris Rivard

We have some exciting news to share about Cozy payments. We’ve been speaking with many customers over the past few months and one theme we’ve heard consistently is the need for more flexibility in payments. The requests we’ve heard include:

  • The ability to request a one-time payment from a tenant.
  • Expanded payment options in addition to our current bank to bank transfers to allow tenants to pay with a credit or debit card.
  • More flexibility around monthly rent due dates.

The design and engineering teams have been working through how best to incorporate these features and provide a best in class user experience. These improvements are in development right now with a scheduled release later in the summer.

As part of these improvements to payments, we’ve found a new payments partner in Stripe. Stripe is the leader in online payments and will allow us to design and deliver these capabilities in a great user experience at a much faster pace.

In order for landlords to continue to accept rent payments uninterrupted, all landlords will need to agree to Stripe’s terms of service in their Cozy account. We’ll be sending out an email beginning next week that includes a link to the terms. The only action necessary is to click the button in the email.

The move to Stripe will occur on June 9th, 2015, so please review the email as soon as you receive it. We’ll also post a message on the Cozy dashboard that landlords will see when they log in. Tenants do not need to take any action. We’re very excited at what we have planned for our customers and are working hard to get these features into the product.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to our amazing support team.

How to Read a Tenant Credit Report

Written on May 13, 2015 by Katie Harlow

A lot of folks using Cozy are accidental landlords, and many have never needed to interpret another person’s credit report. Quite honestly, even when reviewing my own report, I was mostly focused on the score — but, when you’re evaluating a potential tenant, you need to look closely. Fortunately, Cozy makes it easy to review a credit report, even if you’re doing so for the first time.

Let’s take a look at the different pieces of information you’re provided with, and how you can use them. But first, if you haven't run a tenant credit report yet, use Cozy. It's free for landlords like you, and just $19.95 for your applicants.

The Overview

credit report overview

Here’s a top-level summary of your applicant’s debts and credit lines along with their credit score. This will tell you their total existing debt, plus the percentage of available credit they’re currently using.

Credit Summary

credit report summary

This is where you’ll find a breakdown of your applicant’s total monthly payments and total debt. Knowing how much your tenant already owes each month may give you a better idea of whether they have enough income to comfortably cover rent. I’d also recommend paying close attention to their total debt ratio. Some applicants may have a large total debt, but a big portion of it may be things that are considered good debt, like student loans.

Payment History

credit report payment history

Next you’ll find your applicant’s overall payment history. This will tell you things like when they last made a late payment and the number of accounts currently in collections. Accounts Ever Late and Time Since Late may give you a good indication of this applicant’s likelihood to pay their rent on time every month.

Account History

credit report account history

Next you’ll see a more comprehensive display of your applicant’s account history. Here you’ll be able to view up to 25 months of payment history for each account. I’d recommend looking out for consistently on time payments, which suggests that this applicant is accountable for their financial obligations.

Score Factors

credit report score factors

Finally, you’ll see a list of factors that could have lowered your applicant’s credit score. We’ll give you a brief explanation of each one, but you can also check out www.reasoncode.org for a more in-depth rundown.

Build Your Business with Cozy

Written on May 07, 2015 by Gino Zahnd

We hear from customers everyday, and we frequently hear stories about how Cozy has changed someone's life, or made it possible to deal with investment property or rooommates in ways that we never intended. So when Scot Rife wrote to tell us he completely changed careers, and has built his real estate business with the help of Cozy and Landlordology, we had to share his story. Scot's story is why we're on this mission!

And with his permission, here's the email from Scot:

I wanted to introduce myself... You don't know me, but I have gotten to know your work over the past month and am very grateful.

I bought my first investment property in 2011 and what started as a hobby, turned into a passion and now a career. I left my 20 year banking career in 2013 to become a full-time investor and Realtor specializing in helping others buy and hold Real Estate for wealth. I now own about a dozen single family rentals with a business partner.

Here is where you come in... The teaching from Landlordology has caused my business partner and I to move from investing in Real Estate to running a Real Estate business. For example, we developed a written screening process and new leases that require electronic funds transfer from Cozy. We've also created a tenant portal we call www.Resident411.com to provide transparency to our tenants and an optimal resident experience. We're developing written systems for everything we do and feel empowered to take on roles we've been out sourcing. As we onboard new properties and existing ones go vacant, we are transitioning from a property manager to self management and will save over $700 per month thanks in part to you.

We "use" other on-line services in our business but feel a great connection with cozy.co because of the value you add through the information you provide at Landlordodogy. We see you as a partner in our business that goes beyond the web tools.

Yesterday, a client set up a cozy.co account to screen and collect payment from his tenants. I see part of my role is to educate clients and introduce them to tools to be successful in their business. All my investor clients are now hearing about Landlordology and cozy.co.

You've helped us take our training wheels off and move forward in our business and I wanted to thank you.

With gratitude,

Scot

Scot M. Rife

Realtor®

Coldwell Banker Heritage Realtors

535 N Main St

Springboro, OH 45066

www.scotrife.com

If you are using Cozy to run your business, or if you're thinking about making the leap, please let us know!

The $100,000,000 Milestone

Written on May 06, 2015 by Gino Zahnd

You've helped us hit another milestone: Cozy now processes over $100,000,000 a year in rent payments. 1.5 years ago, I wrote that we had processed our first $1 million, so it's fun to know we now do about 2x that every week now. And we're just getting started.

Cozy's customer base has grown person by person, business by business, with no sales team. We're now used by landlords, property managers, and tenants in over 6,000 ZIP codes in the US. That includes essentially every urban area, every suburb, most college towns, and lots of places in between. It's deeply rewarding to know that we're enabling people to never have to think about rent or rent-related tasks, and we're doing it at what is starting to look like substantial scale.

As we've grown, we've learned a ton about the needs of both landlords and renters when it comes to financial transactions along the rental lifecycle. To that end, we're actively working with the Cozy customer advisory board on new products to meet those needs, as well as technology to extend Cozy payments far beyond our core services. This summer is going to be awesome.

Thanks for being with us as we've grown, and thanks for all the support. The next time I write about this will be when we hit the billion dollar mark. I can't wait.

The Best Rental Application Gets Better

Written on April 28, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

We're constantly incorporating landlord feedback into our product development, and we're excited to unveil two updates to our new rental applications.

First, we've added an emergency contact field to the rental application.

Rental Application Emergency Contact

Second, in addition to some other minor design tweaks, we've added a new checkbox at the end of the application, right before applicants hit submit, confirming that they're comfortable with their prospective landlord contacting their employer and references.

Rental Application Submission

We're constantly making updates to our tools for landlords and renters, and as always, they're available for free, instantly, to everyone using Cozy. There's no software to update or fee to pay.

If you're a landlord or property manager that isn't using Cozy for rental property management yet, you can sign up for free.