Rent the Backyard wants to build a studio apartment in your yard

Rent the Backyard is one of the rare startups with a name that perfectly suits what it does.

The company, which is part of Y Combinator’s current batch, builds studio apartments in homeowners’ backyards, which are then rented out for income.

Of course, if you already own a house with a yard, you could theoretically do this for yourself, without getting a startup involved, but co-founder Brian Bakerman told me, “The goal is to have no headaches for the homeowners.”

That means Rent the Backyard works with a partner to build the apartment, finances the construction, lists the property, selects the tenant, collects the rent and serves as the landlord. In exchange for all that, it has an ownership stake in the unit and keeps 50% of the rent.

The startup also handles the permitting, which co-founder Spencer Burleigh said has become much easier with recent changes in California law. In fact, he pointed to stories about how these changes have led to skyrocketing applications (16 in 2016, 350 in 2018) to build “in-law” units in San Jose, which is where the startup is focused for now.

Bakerman said that many homeowners simply can’t afford the upfront cost of building these units, so by providing the financing, Rent the Backyard can unlock new income and make home ownership more affordable. At the same time, it’s also helping renters by creating more apartments.

Of course, for a homeowner, that means giving up a big piece of your backyard (which must be at least 30 feet by 30 feet in size), but Bakerman said that many yards are “underutilized” anyway.

“In places like the Bay Area … people are spending a ridiculous amount on their homes,” he added. “They often can’t afford those lifestyles, but everyone wants to attain home ownership.”

The company’s website includes a calculator of how much rental income you might earn, and it says that most owners will be able to make more than $10,000 of additional income each year.

Over time, Rent the Backyard will give the homeowner an increasing share of equity in the apartment, until they own it completely after 30 years. Homeowners also can buy out the startup’s equity and take full ownership at any time (which they’ll need to do if they sell their home and move out).

To be clear, Rent the Backyard hasn’t actually built any apartments yet, but it’s already signed up construction partners, and the goal is to get 10 units permitted and ready for construction by the end of the summer.

“It’s a pretty fast process,” Bakerman said. “It could just be a handful of weeks before we’re able to start building” — and because the units use prefabricated construction methods, the actual building could take as little as a week and a half.