Roompact: Contracting & Conflict Resolution software for roommates

Open Law Lab - Roompact 1

The New York Times profiled the start-up Roompact yesterday, framing it as a roommate dispute tool.  It also is a legal product — it’s a platform for two parties to come together and create a contract about the terms on which they’ll be roommates, and then flag potential violations & failures after the agreement is signed.  In this case, the university administration can intervene and try to lead a dispute resolution process through the platform.

Roompact has an interesting mix of the dispute resolution functions that have been popping up online over the past decade — and also conflict prevention tech.  It advertises an algorithm that will help a person find a person whom they’re less likely to come into conflict with, and then tries to allow for collaborative contracting and early responses to problems with the agreement that bubble up.

Open Law Lab - Roompact 2

It would be interesting to see other Dispute Resolution platforms aimed not at roommates, but in families, the workplace, or commercial transactions.  This model incorporates a full user flow rather than a simple dispute resolution function:

  1. finding an appropriate party to make a deal with,
  2. collaborating with her to create a custom, mutually satisfying agreement,
  3. solidifying & preserving that legal agreement,
  4. allowing for low-level complaints about deviations from that agreement, or other problems in the relationship,
  5. early-stage intervention to resolve these low-level problems,
  6. later-stage dispute resolutions if the problems spin into larger ones that threaten to sabotage the agreement

A platform with such a wider flow of services — focusing on earlier stages in a pair’s relationship as well as the later ones, when the problems have devolved into ‘disputes’ to be resolved — could be a new direction for the dispute resolution legal products to evolve towards.  Or it could be a service design for traditional courts to consider as they bring their mediation efforts online.

Here’s the New York Times article about Roompact:

via Today’s Students Don’t Have to Suffer if They Hate Their Roommates –

Over the last few years, many colleges and universities have adopted online roommate matching programs that help incoming students look for and select their own first-year roommates. Like dating sites, the roommate analytics systems can match people based on preferences like music volume, sociability and even tolerance for snoring.

But schools are not offering first-year students roommate personalization engines merely to ease their transition to college life, as I noted in my article for Sunday Business this week. These educational institutions are trying to reduce an expensive problem: roommate conflicts so severe that they can prompt students to transfer or drop out before their sophomore year.

Rona Skinner, the director of business strategies for student auxiliary services at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., for instance, said she had seen roommates develop conflicts over issues like overnight guests and even whether their dorm room windows should be kept open or closed.

To try to preclude those types of problems, the university uses StarRez, a comprehensive online housing management program that includes a roommate self-selection option for students.

“In today’s market, we have to be competitive inside and outside the academic arena,” Ms. Skinner said. “If we can give students a happy experience with a roommate, they are likely to be retained, not just at the school, but in on-campus housing.”

A start-up, Roompact, is trying to tackle college roommate conflicts directly.

The company has developed online roommate agreements that incoming college students can use to agree on parameters for dorm room cleanliness, security, property sharing and other issues. Then Roompact sends each student a text message on a weekly or twice-monthly basis asking for a rating of how the roommate relationship is going.

The Roompact system also allows university staff members to track the roommate relationship in each dorm room and notifies them when a problem seems to be developing.

“Today, a residence hall director who is in charge of a whole building might find out there’s a problem after a student has already been fighting with a roommate for two months,” said Matt Unger, the chief executive of Roompact. “We want to detect conflict earlier, notify folks in residential life and help with conflict resolution.”

This fall, the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn., plans to introduce Roompact for its incoming class, which includes about 1,200 residential students.

The university already had its own strategy in place to try to mitigate roommate conflict. It used paper-based roommate agreements for students and assigned university staff members, like residence counselors, to regularly check in with each student.

While that oversight will continue, Shawn McQuillan, the university’s associate director for residential life, said he hoped features like the regular text messages from Roompact seeking updates will encourage students to better communicate their roommate situations to the university.

“With students becoming more high-tech, it was like pulling teeth to try to get them to fill out the paper forms,” Mr. McQuillan said. “For students who don’t communicate much with us directly, we’re hoping they are going to be more honest with the text messages.”