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Bellingham housing has students' heads spinning. Could a map be the cure?

Tenants Revolt developed a radar to help tenants report issues with their rentals

Leaking water spreads across the floor from a burst pipe in a Bellingham rental. The tenants spent their night cleaning up the mess. Nov. 20, 2023  // Courtesy of Evan Sears

Mold behind that bookshelf? Maintenance not returning your messages? Being in a college town, students are often inexperienced renters, and therefore concerns about exploitation are serious. That’s where Tenants Revolt and their Rental Radar comes in.

Tenants Revolt released the Shit Rental Radar for renters to be aware of specific issues with properties. Using GIS mapping, the radar allows for reports to be made about issues such as mold, pests, rental discrimination and more. 

Renters can specifically detail problems with their property for future tenants to see. The current map shows a highly dense concentration of dots, each representing a single report.

Rebecca Quirke, founder of Tenants Revolt, was driven to create an organization that looked out for tenants after the heating in her rental stopped working, freezing the pipes and causing them to burst.

“The heating system there didn't work when it was under 30 degrees outside,” Quirke said. “And so it was so cold inside that I could see my breath. I was suing the management myself and just kept asking law advocates who I've gotten in touch with, ‘Can we make this issue bigger?’”

Quirke’s main focus is making sure landlords and management companies are held accountable by the law, as well as ensuring that young renters know what they’re getting into.

“We need to hold our legislators accountable,” Quirke said. “We need to make sure that they know how dangerous this is.”

City Council member Kristina Michele Martens is well aware of the issue and said she thinks it’s hard for legislators to focus on this issue when they don’t experience it themselves.

“There have been very few renters on Bellingham City Council because it's not structured to have renters,” Martens said. “With the exception of myself, everyone else on City Council owns their home. A lot of them have the golden memories of being in college and being a renter and think it's like a rite of passage in America to get a scumlord for management.”

Quirke warns students that there are major red flags to look out for when looking into rental properties, such as management being reluctant to put agreements in writing or promising things will look better upon move-in.

“Put everything in writing,” Quirke said. “If you talk on the phone with management or if you meet them in person and they say something, then email them afterward and ask to recap. Or if it's in person, then ask for their permission to record.”

Evan Sears, a Western student and renter, got more than he bargained for with his property when he and his roommates discovered mold and a burst pipe inside their rental.

“One of our pipes from our toilet exploded,” said Sears. “We had to spend the whole night cleaning that up until about one in the morning.”

Sears was told by management that the pipes had never been an issue before and the next day maintenance came to fix the pipe. However, his roommates considered speaking to Tenants Revolt about the issue.

Sears heard about their resources when his significant other spoke to them about being charged a full month's rent after moving in three days before the month was up. Tenants Revolt helped them settle the issue and prorate that month’s rent.

Quirke believes the Rental Radar will help tenants be wary of these types of issues with their rentals and landlords before they sign the lease.


Screenshot of the Tenants Revolt Rental Radar. Each red dot represents a report of an issue with a rental. // Courtesy of Tenants Revolt

“We're super stoked about the map,” Quirke said. “It’s going to offer some good warning as far as like, when your landlord says ‘That doesn't exist, that's not real. I've never heard that before.’”

Quirke recommends looking at the map and looping in parents into renting conversations to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.

“The parents that we've spoken to and interacted with have been really thrilled that we're here,” Quirke said. “They're glad to know that there's an organization that feels protective of their kids and wants them to be in safe housing.”

Alex Hodson

Alex Hodson (he/him) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a second-year pre-major in journalism. When not working on The Front, he likes to play pickleball, watch movies, drink coffee and sing in Western's Concert Choir. You can reach him at

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