Always ask to see a rental agent’s licenses

by Joe Zekas on 3/19/12

Many of Chicago’s rental services employ unlicensed staff in flagrant violation of the law, fully aware of the fact that they’re committing a crime by leasing apartments without a license:

(225 ILCS 454/20 22)
Sec. 20 22. Violations. Any person who is found working or acting as a managing broker, real estate broker, real estate salesperson, or leasing agent or holding himself or herself out as a licensed sponsoring broker, managing broker, real estate broker, real estate salesperson, or leasing agent without being issued a valid existing license is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and on conviction of a second or subsequent offense the violator shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.

If you’ve decided to use a rental service to find your next apartment, you should find out the name of the agent you’ll be dealing with before you meet with him or her. You can verify the agent’s licensing status at the IDFPR website, by checking whether they have an active leasing agent or broker’s license.

The agent may inform you that he is working within the 120-day pre-licensing period allowed by law. You should ask yourself whether you really want to be shown apartments and given guidance by someone who has less than four months’ experience. I’d strongly recommend finding a more experienced agent. The turnover is extremely high among agents in the pre-licensing period for a wide variety of reasons, and the odds are heavily against your finding someone who isn’t clueless and a time-waster.

At your first meeting with your agent you’ll want to see two forms of documentation: their driver’s license and their state license “pocket card” or, in the case a pre-licensed agent, a copy of the form their broker submitted to the state documenting the beginning of their 120-day period.

Why a driver’s license? In addition to ensuring that you’re not getting into a car with an unlicensed driver, you need to verify that the person is who he claims to be. I’ve heard a number of tales of unlicensed agents borrowing license cards from other agents.

You should realize that you can’t rely on the broker-supplied documentation for pre-licensed agents, which is another reason for not working with one.

Dishonesty is a core competency for many of Chicago’s rental services and they have no hesitation about supplying false documentation or employing people well beyond the allowable 120-day period. As an example, you can compare the profile of one Chicago Apartment Finders agent from the LinkedIn screen cap, above, with the date on which the agent was first licensed: October 19, 2007. You don’t need a calculator to figure out that 15 months is a lot more than 120 days. And yes, many of the agents are brain-dead enough to document their violations of the law for all to see.

If there’s any problem with the documentation you’re given, or if you’re not supplied documentation, move on immediately to finding a better rental service.

Some of you may be questioning my assumption that you know in advance who you’ll be meeting with. You absolutely should, rather than simply walking into a rental service and sitting around in a cattle-call environment to meet with whomever. I’ll explore the reasons for that in a later post.

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