Need to check a home’s criminal record? This website can help

Need to check a home’s criminal record? This website can help

A screenshot of Housecreep, as it appeared earlier today. A screenshot of Housecreep, as it appeared earlier today.
 

Every Toronto home has a history, but there are a few out there that have a past.

The city averages about 56 homicides a year, and they all have to happen someplace. There are fires, clandestine marijuana grow operations, and other, weirder crimes that defy concise description. Sellers are legally required to disclose defects in a property, like physical damage that might result from a house having been used to produce drugs, but for things that are more psychological in nature, like crime-related infamy, it’s buyer beware.

That’s why Housecreep is such an intriguing thing. Launched last spring by a Toronto-based multimedia developer named Robert Armieri and his statistician brother Albert, the website is a searchable database of addresses where bad—or, at any rate, newsworthy—things have happened.

When this was written, the site listed 2079 places, only 645 of which were in Ontario. Most of the properties were researched and added by Armieri and his brother, but Housecreep is built to take user submissions, Wikipedia style. “Right now we have about, I’d say, 130 users,” Armieri said during a phone interview. “At this point it’s kind of just a hobby.” Most of the entries deal with depressingly routine crimes—murders and drug busts—but there are a few bizarre and disturbing cases, like the Riverdale home where a shrivelled infant was discovered beneath some floorboards after being hidden there 80 years earlier.

The site was created with an eye toward the rental market. When he came up with the idea, Armieri was living in Sudbury, looking for an apartment in Toronto. “I was using different websites, like Viewit.ca, to find different apartments, and at the same time I was looking up the addresses in The Bedbug Registry, and I had the idea that it would be interesting if there was a website that allowed you to find out a little more about a home or an apartment.”

Armieri built Housecreep in his free time. To discourage users from posting false information, he designed a moderation system, and the site encourages users to include links to news stories as evidence. “We just want the information to be out there and people can make up their own mind about it,” Armieri said. “But if we see something that is obviously misleading or that is a personal attack against someone, we will take it down immediately.” Even without Armieri’s help, a diligent buyer could always plug an address into Google, but Housecreep does make the process of digging up dirt easier—almost dangerously so.

Bruce Matthews, deputy registrar of Ontario’s real-estate industry regulator, the Real Estate Council of Ontario, stops just short of applauding the project. “In a general sense, more information is better,” he said. “But it’s important that you take into consideration the source of the information that you’re looking at.” And so, as always, buyer beware.