A Craigslist Apartment Cleanup success story

Our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup has both short-term and long-term goals. In the near term we’re focusing on a somewhat arbitrarily-selected “dirtiest dozen” Craigslist ad spammers and asking your cooperation in identifying and flagging ads that are posted too frequently in violation of Craigslist’s Terms of use. In the longer term we’ll be seeking disciplinary action against firms that advertise illegally, and also advocating legislative changes to clean up Chicago’s rogue rental services.

On January 2, we selected Rent Proactive as the first entry on our dirtiest dozen roster. A Craigslist query on the company’s name in the apts/housing for rent section returned 2,500 ads – the maximum returned by a query – as of December 30. Rent Proactive has added 100s of ads to Craigslist every day since then.

As of 1:05 today, as you can see in the above screen cap, the company had 971 ads active at Craigslist.

Rent Proactive began the day yesterday with 1,362 active ads. At some point in the mid-morning yesterday Craigslist purged all but 10 of the ads from January 6 and all ads posted on January 7. Rent Proactive was unable to add new ads until 7:27 p.m. yesterday, when it opened a new can of spam and shoveled 194 new ads into Craigslist by midnight. It closed the day with 1,380 active ads and began posting more this morning.

At the time of the above screen cap, only 10 of today’s ads remained active, 24 from yesterday, and 10 from the day before.

Craigslist doesn’t disclose the number of flags that an ad must receive before being deleted. It appears that enough of you are flagging Rent Proactive ads to make a significant difference in its ad volume, and hopefully you’re taking action on other over-posted ads. We realize that many of you are frustrated and angry over the abusive volume of rental service advertising, but we strongly suggest that you take a cautious, fact-based, disciplined approach to flagging. Thanks for your assistance in the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup.

If you don’t have time to flag ads on Craigslist, Like our Facebook page and tell your friends about it to show your support. If you’re a Chicago rental service, clean up your act rather than calling people I know and muttering curses and threats. Chicago landlords and renters will clean up Facebook, hotpads, Trulia and Zillow and you’ll just have to deal with that.

ADDED: Updated ad count as of 3:15 p.m, January 9: 705.

ADDED: Rent Proactive began the day on 1/11 with 417 active Craigslist ads and added 81 before 9 a.m.


  • Ryan Ferrell 5 years

    First, Joe I’m glad you are taking these people down. Thank you.

    A simple way to solve the spam/no-right-to-advertise problem is to ask Craigslist to setup a “rent by owner” section like it has in other big cities (and in the Chicago real estate for sale section).

    This is the landing page you get in Boston for clicking “Apartments and Housing”.


    Landlords in Chicago are due such a page.

  • I wish it were that simple, Ryan.

    Take a look at the By owner section in New York, where agents have to pay for listings and they’re free to owners.

    The agents have horribly spammed up the By owner section.

    I’ve heard that the situation is better in San Francisco, Craigslist’s home, where the users have developed what someone called “a culture of flagging.”

  • Fred 5 years

    Why not charge everyone a modest fee? Even $1 adds up if you are posting 900 spam ads per day but is next to nothing for a landlord. I bet you could even go as high as $10 or $20 and it would still be cheap enough for landlords. What did the Reader charge for an ad before craigslist existed? What does it cost to list a car on Autotrader or Cars.com?

    • boiztwn 5 years

      Absolutely correct. A pay wall is the best way to “clean up Craig’s List,” but that is on Craig’s List to implement. That’s why all of these “campaigns” to clean it up — from banning Leasing Agent licenses (lol) to wasting your life in flagging for spam/overpost — are pointless. Craig’s List will do it: not this blog.

      If Craig’s List won’t do it themselves, then people will move to other services to find a rental — which they’re doing — and there are others itching to fill that void. (And NO, the MLS is not the answer, Joe ♥)

      Also, the Reader/Trib were/are ridiculously expensive (and still are) so no one with a modicum of savvy uses them anymore.

      • boiztwn

        Such authoritative posturing from such a limited base of knowledge!

        I’ll just address one of the ways in which you’re radically wrong. The MLS is the definitive source for condo / single-family home rentals in Chicago. You’ll find almost all of them there via a reputable broker website, and few of them anywhere else. Are you really that ill-informed or are you trying to mislead?

    • David 5 years

      I don’t really use Craigslist, but I thought they had already implemented fees in some areas for posting rental ads. Is that not the case in Chicago. It certainly should be. $1-5 is a trivial amount to pay for a legitimate ad, but it would kill the worst of the spammers at least.

      • boiztwn 5 years

        It’s not the case in Chicago.

        A pay wall — despite Joe’s holier-than-thou nitpicking over my last reply about this — is the easiest way to “clean up” Craig’s List. It did wonders for the jobs categories (which did institute a charge a few years ago).

        But Craig’s List has to do it. Not Joe Zekas.

        • boiztwn,

          A pay wall hasn’t worked on Craigslist in New York. Why would it work here? And what about Trulia, Zillow, hotpads and the other sites that draw tons of renter traffic?

          Craigslist isn’t going to clean up – there’s plenty of evidence for that. And even if it did, the problem I’m addressing would remain.

          $25,000 fines and license revocations are a more effective pay wall for illegal advertising than any Craigslist might ever put up.

          You’re sounding like you have a problem with cleaning up the industry. What’s your interest in that?

          • boiztwn 5 years

            Is New York Chicago, Joe? Does listing and leasing an apartment in New York operate the same way as it does in Chicago? Please. Advise me.

            The reason Rental Companies (oh, and now brokerages) say they are a “FREE” service is in direct contrast to cities like New York.

            Besides that, if you had any long-term memory of the rental industry, you would know that when Landlords and management companies first started with Craig’s List about 8 or more years ago, it was highly lucrative. The rental agencies (and brokerages!) spamming it is a fairly recent phenomenon — let’s say, the past 4 years of so.

            You’re so disgustingly behind the curve on it, it’s laughable. And I told you as much. People are looking to alternatives.

            A pay wall would completely break the “scam” industry in Chicago on Craig’s List. Let’s say an agent posts 50 ads a DAY at $5/ad. That’s $250. No one will pay that. Even $250 a MONTH is a huge gambit at their pay cut of a commissioned sale on the average rental. You say “this won’t work, because, NEW YORK!” Please. More information, dahling.

            Trulia? Zillow? You may as well plug for Apartments.com again, Joe, as the BEST RESOURCE EVER! Urban renters by and large do not use the national sites. Sites like those are the REASON places like Craig’s List became popular sources (and why you focus on them, while these sites are afterthoughts): Craig’s List is local and updated with frequency. Now it’s spammed and ineffective and your panacea is… IDFPR? Yeah, ok.

            Let’s say all of the brokerages and “bedbugs” went out of business IMMEDIATELY. Then what? The management companies would spam. Some already do, and I already pointed out PPM to you (but you hair-split that one, since they’re a paying advertiser of [WAZZUP]!Chicago). Doesn’t that then choke out Jane and Juan from advertising their single coach house or condo? Who is the enemy then? Or is it then just free enterprise at work, since they’re often owned subsidiaries of the property owner(s) themselves?

            With you, it’s impossible to tell with your hair splitting.

            Lastly, to address your bon mot: yes, you bonehead, I want the industry “cleaned up.” Everyone wants smarter, more technical, credentialed service within any industry. You think I like walking into any average city Post Office or Secretary of State? And, yes, the industry is rife with deception. But…

            … you know what?

            That is the INDUSTRY. From managing brokers all the way down to Leasing Agents, from your sales to your Leasing. Brokers — like Car Salesmen — have been the butt of jokes for decades, and your focus is on… Craig’s List ads? You REALLY want to treat the licensed Leasing Agent as somehow a lower lifeform than a Licensed Broker at one of your firms of repute?

            And even given this laughable dichotomy you’ve created for your blog, you envelop yourself within this cloak of justice as some Grand Inquisitor while shielding the very people who violate your own articles all because they are PAID. ADVERTISERS.

            I sit here saying “Craig’s List charges? Craig’s List fixed.” That was the extent of my comment, Joe. And you then say “NO! No no NO! It won’t be! New York! Bedbugs! That!”

            It’s tiring as all hell. Multiple people have commented here throughout your silly crusades and have given very clear, very correct reasons why you should calm down and have a damn martini. You are not protecting the consumer, sp just stop it. You’re promoting your advertisers: traditional brokerages that want greater access to landlord commissions.

            You scoff at that? Ask your broker sponsors if they will have their agents “negotiate their commissions” because if affects their rent, just as with a rental outfit.

            If you don’t, do you know what that makes you?

            A bedbug.

  • boiztwn,

    From the evidence in your comment, I’d guess I knew more about the rental service industry before you were born than you’ll ever learn. But you have no interest in learning, do you? You don’t even begin to grasp the point of the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup.

    Rental services won’t pay to spam Craigslist? One service alone paid over $200K a year to spam Reader classifieds back in the day.

    Do you have any idea how Craigslist works in NY? Nope. Craigslist charges $10 for broker ads. By owner ads are free. Result: massive broker spam in the By owner section.

    It’s easy for anonymous gutless creeps to slur the integrity of people who’ve spent their life being honest and open, and you’re delusional enough to take yourself seriously. No serious person does.

    Throw out your wild charges all you want. Fair-minded readers know who I am. They,know that there’s a world of difference between brokers with a major firm and rental service agents. And unfortunately for you, they know what you are.

  • Ryan Ferrell 5 years

    There’s no need to charge a fee and create incentives for misbehavior. Just let these spammers have their space. Every once in a while they could be useful.

    Personally, I don’t think restricting listings to an MLS service that real estate agents control is a good thing. People today who are buying homes or particularly internet-savvy 20/30 somethings renting an apartment want to be able to look through the available stock themselves online and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to. A real estate agent is not helpful to me as a database searcher, but as someone to provide advice and ensure a contract is setup correctly. Frankly, agents in my experience are terribly inefficient database searchers, but very efficient at the other end of a deal. It’s advantageous to the agent, too, by focusing their time on just what drives a sale.