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While you still can't buy a meal at many restaurants with bitcoin, you can now pay your rent with it.
ManageGo, a Brooklyn, New York-based rental platform that offers landlords and tenants payment and maintenance scheduling services through online and mobile applications, is now adding bitcoin to the list. Starting early next year, a tenant can pay in bitcoin through the mobile app.
Here's how it works: The tenant uses bitcoin and then ManageGo converts the bitcoin to dollars using Coinbase, a digital cryptocurrency broker. The landlord gets the rent payment in dollars. Since bitcoin is extremely volatile, the value is locked in at the time of the payment.
There has not been a lot of demand for this service, but executives at ManageGo, which has been around for seven years, say it is only a matter of time.
"We lead in innovation, so we saw bitcoin was something that's going to happen and become a standing currency sometime in the future," said Chaim Lowenstein, vice president of business strategy at ManageGo. "Right now there are types of clients we have, their tenants fit the profile, and we wanted to offer it as the new amenity beyond a fancy gym or a new couch in the building."
Lowenstein said he has already received interest from landlords, if not yet from tenants. The company is marketing the idea nationwide, hoping it will catch on as quickly as the currency has.
Toby Bozzuto said he learned of it this week at a real estate conference. Bozzuto is CEO of The Bozzuto Group, an apartment development and management company with more than 70,000 units nationally in its portfolio.
"Currently we have had zero interest in paying rent through bitcoin," said Bozzuto, who is still skeptical about cryptocurrencies in general. "You don't know who owns it, and that's the knock on it. It's been considered black market with a dirty reputation.
That said, he is not exactly closing the door on the option.
"If this becomes a consumer shift, like Apple Pay, we are always looking for ways to increase the ease of rent payments. I'm not closed-minded enough to say it's off the table, " he added.
ManageGo has approached the American Apartment Owners Association, but representatives there said they have not heard of any demand from renters or landlords for bitcoin options.
Alexandra Alvarado, a representative of the association, said property management companies and landlords have moved only slowly into online payments and tend to be quite cautious and conservative. They will not consider trying something until it is widely established in the market.
That could be years or months, given bitcoin's incredible rise and the expansion of other cryptocurrencies right behind it. To start, it will likely be a very specific type of renter.
"It's someone who is maybe in technology, somebody in finance, somebody who sees this as very exciting," Lowenstein said. "They got in, and this makes it real that they could pay their rent with bitcoin."