An urgent warning to Chicago renters and property managers re Zumper and RadPad

For years now, Chicago property managers have taken a lax approach to the well-known, rampantly illegal behavior of Chicago rental services. They’ve spoken softly and occasionally wagged their fingers at scofflaw companies that advertise illegally, employ unlicensed agents and convicted felons, play bait and switch with renters, lie to renters, destroy the utility of websites that renters frequent, create fraudulent Yelp and Google+ reviews – and a great deal more.

The local property management industry has tolerated such extensive disorder and contempt for legal and ethical standards that Chicago’s rental services a/k/a apartment finders a/k/a locators, have recently begun to ratchet up their abusive behavior to new levels. The risks are apparently perceived as minimal, and the reward is a pot filled with millions of dollars of commissions, a pot that’s substantially enlarged this year by a flurry of new high-rises coming to market.

Renters at risk of identity theft
Chicago’s rental services are spamming two relatively new websites, Zumper and RadPad, with 1,000s of ads, many of which are designed to deceive renters into believing they can apply online and submit their credit report to the properties that are being advertised.

No serious management company that I’m aware of in this city allows rental services to accept applications on their behalf. Renters who click an Instant Apply button at Zumper or an Apply Instantly button at OnRadPad.com are being played for suckers. To make matters worse, they may be being played by an identity thief. Many ads on these sites name individuals who don’t hold real estate licenses in Illinois, and don’t have identifiable phone numbers or places of business. A Google search on these names returns no results – the people are fictitious and may very well be identity thieves.

What can be done?
Renters should totally avoid Zumper and OnRadPad. Renters in Chicago’s prime lakefront neighborhoods can easily connect directly with properties, and should avoid rental services. The risk of dealing with Chicago rental services is high and the benefits are negligible – at best.

Chicago’s property managers need to get serious about ensuring that their prospective residents are treated fairly and dealt with honestly at every step of the rental process. They need to start shouting at rental services, and swinging hammers. No other reputable industry allows its independent sales force to abuse its customers. Management companies would fire an employee in an instant for behavior that they routinely wink at from the rental services they cooperate with.

Management companies need to set some bright line rules, and enforce them ruthlessly. Rental services that advertise at Zumper or RadPad, or on sites that syndicate ads to Zumper or RadPad, should be terminated. Rental services that advertise anyone’s property illegally or engage in bait-and-switch tactics should be terminated. Rental services that pollute Craigslist and other sites with abusively repetitive ads should be terminated.

We’re in a “broken windows” scenario where what’s been perceived as merely pervasive low-level offenses is about to erupt into widespread harm to renters.

Will we see business as usual this rental season, or will Chicago’s management companies step up and begin to show their renters more respect?

Note: The issue of how and why management companies deal with rental services is more nuanced and complex than the manner in which I’ve presented it here. I’ve treated it simplistically because I see a bad situation for renters and for management companies rapidly becoming far worse.

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