Chicago’s dirtiest dozen rental services – Urban Lux is #2

by Joe Zekas on 1/7/13

You’ll find scores of rental services on YoChicago’s do-not-call list. We’re singling out twelve of them – the ones we consider the dirtiest dozen – for a closer look, as part of our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup.

The top spot (chronologically) on our dirtiest dozen roster went to Rent Proactive. Next up on our roster is Urban Lux.

We don’t intend the order of selection to suggest that one company is worse than the other. Our informed opinion is that there aren’t enough differences among the companies we’re selecting for the dirtiest dozen to rank order them.

What does a rental service have to do to earn a place among our dirtiest dozen? Longevity is key – the company has to have first come to our attention some time ago. An online presence that we deem to be significant and frequently untruthful is the second criterion. The goals of the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup include seeking sanctions for illegal online behavior and legislative changes to reduce its incidence, and that requires us to focus on behavior that we can carefully document over a period of time.

Urban Lux was a charter member of YoChicago’s do-not-call list going back to March of 2011, and we’ve previously written about the company’s bait-and-switch tactics and its irresponsibly insecure online application form.

Urban Lux is also a prolific Craigslist spammer, with nearly 1,800 repetitive ads active there as of just after 7 p.m. yesterday.

There are indications in Urban Lux’s Craigslist ads that Craigslist itself may have identified the company as a spammer. Most of the content of each of the company’s ads is presented as a single jpg image, ensuring that the company’s name doesn’t appear in searchable text in its ads. Each of its ads contains a unique string of nonsense text, making the ads appear non-duplicated to Craigslist’s filters. A sample: “round we through my write might live has up where ask eye very it is but draw we give answer run.” Craigslist’s terms of use refer to this as content “spinning” and specifically prohibit it. An Urban Lux affiliate, inRentive, boasts about its “unique ‘Ad Randomizer’ feature, which allowed us to post a vast number of Craigslist compliant listings without a single ghosted ad.” Urban Lux posts are not, however, “Craigslist compliant” with regard to frequency of posting or the inclusion of copyrighted materials owned by others.

We notified Urban Lux by email on December 26 and again on January 3 that it was running unauthorized ads for specific properties that support the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup. Our second notice also called Urban Lux’s attention to its unauthorized use of copyrighted images in those ads. As of 7 p.m. yesterday Urban Lux had a total of 63 ads live on Craigslist for those properties, and continued its use of copyrighted images.

Many of the building entries at Urban Lux’s website and many of its ads are seriously misleading in that they recite popular features, e.g. in-unit washer / dryer, that simply don’t exist at a property. Rents are often understated, often by significant amounts, and don’t appear to be updated at all on some of the properties at Urban Lux’s website. And, yes, I understand that rental amounts and availabilities change frequently enough that an ad can be honest at the time it was placed and inaccurate shortly thereafter. I’ve documented specific instances of understated rents over a long enough period of time to know that’s not the case with a number of Urban Lux ads.

Urban Lux’s online database of properties is so seriously flawed as to make it worse than useless – except as search engine bait, which appears to be its primary purpose. Among other things, it contains 100s of listings for properties that are not rentals and have nothing available for sale, and doesn’t disclose that.

We’ve documented a great deal more about Urban Lux’s online behavior, and we’ll continue to document it, as we will for all of the dirtiest dozen. In due time we’ll present that documentation to the state licensing authorities, and it will be part of the case we make to spur the state legislature to reform the licensing law.

We already have a number of other firms in our cross-hairs, and we’ve called specific instances of what we consider illegal behavior to their attention. We’ll continue to do that, to afford them an opportunity to clean up their act – and as evidence that a failure to do so amounts to willful disregard of the law.

IDFPR has the statutory power to levy fines of up to $25,000 and to suspend or revoke licenses. We don’t believe that $25,000 fines are sufficient to deter recurrences of the kind of behavior we’ve observed over the years, and are hoping that our efforts will result in license suspensions or revocations. We’re also coming to the conclusion that the Leasing Agent license and 120-day permit should be abolished by legislative action as part of cleaning up Chicago’s rental service industry.

How you can help
If you’ve previously worked for a firm you consider one of the dirtiest dozen – or are currently employed by one – and are willing to share relevant inside information about their operations, send an email to yojoe at yochicago dot com or call me at 312-280-9780 x 100. I won’t accept information sent anonymously, but I will keep your identity strictly confidential.

If you’re a landlord or management company that hasn’t given express written authority to rental services to advertise your property, join the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup. If going public is too much of a commitment, monitor rental service ads at Craigslist, hotpads, Trulia and Zillow and flag ads for your property that were placed without your authorization or that involve pirated use of your copyrighted photographs. You can also notify me that you wish to be a silent supporter of the campaign and have YoChicago staff monitor rental service ads for your property.

If you’re in the market to rent an apartment, help yourself and other renters by flagging spam ads at Craigslist. Trulia, Zillow and hotpads have links to report / flag problems as part of each ad. Use them.

If you’re a leasing agent who’s interested in complying with federal, state and local laws that affect online advertising, ask your managing broker to invite me for an office-wide on-site training session. What you learn might save you from incurring $10s of $1,000s in fines or a disciplinary action that permanently blights your future.

Show your support for our efforts by liking our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup page at Facebook.

NOTE: At the margins YoChicago competes with rental services for landlord marketing dollars, so we have a financial stake in keeping the competition honest. Make whatever you will of that.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kao Suleiman January 7, 2013 at 2:34 PM

“We’re also coming to the conclusion that the Leasing Agent license and 120-day permit should be abolished by legislative action as part of cleaning up Chicago’s rental service industry.”

Please stop. You lose credibility with ridiculous comments like that. IDFPR even agrees with me. You will be hearing from someone at my firm very soon.

Good hunting,

Tom K. Suleiman

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Joe Zekas January 7, 2013 at 2:47 PM

Kao Suleiman / Tom K. Suleiman

Hunting for the names you used doesn’t turn up any matches on the web. Your firm is … ?

I wasn’t aware that IDFPR had taken an official position on the continuation of the Leasing Agent license. You will add a link to that, won’t you?

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3521USA January 7, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Urban Lux is nothing more than a scam and I’m surprise they’ve been in business for as long as they have. Not only do they pull the bait and switch tactic on potential tenants, they also use it against their employees. I was hired there and was told $350 would be deducted from my first pay check to cover “technology fees”. However, after a week or so of working, I was told to take a break due to a lack of leads. Rishi told me he would get back to me but I never heard back from him or anyone in the company. Although, I was told that their payroll people would contact me for compensation purposes, that never happened either.

Btw, the whole purpose of their online search system is to generate traffic but most of those listings on there are fake.

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Franz January 7, 2013 at 5:19 PM

The faster we get rid of the 120 day AND the leasing license the better it will be for Chicago Real Estate.

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boiztwn January 7, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Ridiculous. Broker licenses eclipse Leasing Agent licenses in total amount issued. Pushing to remove the Leasing license is silly and will accomplish nothing.

Sometimes I think Joe won’t be happy until all power in Chicago real estate is consolidated into his “approved” (i.e. sponsoring) Brokerage firms. Never mind that they are the strongest proponents of his absurd claims: kill the (even now the LICENSED) competition and put even more money into their legacy hands. You better work super hard to get into Established Real Estate Professionals Brokerdom, lowly intern!

None of the charges levied in this article cannot be applied to some of YoChicago’s sponsors. And I could give a whit about “Urban Lux” as a company, but with Joe and his crusades it’s always one step forward and two steps back with his selective tempests.

Eliminating sponsor cards and Leasing Agent licenses. smh

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Joe Zekas January 7, 2013 at 7:41 PM

boiztwn,

You’re flat-out wrong on virtually every argument you make in your comment except one. I’d obviously be thrilled if my clients had all the brokerage business – but we both know that will never happen.

None of the charges levied in this article can be applied to any of YoChicago’s parent firm’s major brokerage clients, to the best of my pretty extensive knowledge. If you’re going to make charges against reputable companies you should have the decency to state who your are and provide documentation. I recognize, however, that anonymice are satisfied with ill-informed mud-slinging.

If you don’t think the elmination of the 120-day permit and Leasing Agent license would profoundly transform the rental services business you simply don’t understand the business. Even eliminating the 120-day permit would result in major changes.

Do you even know the difference between a sponsor card and a 120-day permit? Doesn’t appear that you do. Head back to CribChatter, where you’re less likely to be challenged for a lack of knowledge.

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boiztwn January 7, 2013 at 8:04 PM

None of those charges can be applied? Well maybe not to the brokerages. But But how about those neighborhood guide sponsors? I know, jpg ad spamming is bad as is keyword spamdexing but this could NEVER happen with a YoChicago Client!

Had enough links? Or are you too busy flagging them all for Craig’s List TOU violations to ask me for scores of more?

And now you wish yo cry about licenses. Oh, LICENSES. You know, I remember a time when we had SALESPERSON licenses. But, due to something called the HOUSING COLLAPSE, Illinois did away with those treacherous vermin… by making them… wait for it… BROKERS! I’m so glad no Salespersons worked at your firms of sterling repute — otherwise, we may be at an impasse, Joe.

Oh, wait. Grr. The Leasing Agents. Even the LICENSED ones. They’re all horrific barbarians. Grr. They lock in those unscrupulous souls with their promises of equity and investment and “balloon payments” (balloons are fun! Hehehehe!).

Oh, wait. No. They don’t.

They say “hey, rent this place. It’s just a year!”
And licensed “Managing Brokers” now direct their firms — and those are the people whom you should hold accountable.

I remember the State cracking down on SALESPERSONS. Not Leasing Agents. You can quibble all you want over 120 day vs. sponsor card: your supporters are the largest offenders. A Lease is not a lifetime.

But continue to brush it under the rug, Joe. Prudential Rubloff needs Lea$ing Li$tings (and I only single them out because that was the username link in the post I replied to) because people aren’t buying. KILL THE COMPETITION! Only the big firms can get all the money in Chicago!

Weak.

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Joe Zekas January 7, 2013 at 8:20 PM

boiztwn,

If – and it’s an if I don’t think you have any knowledge of – there’s not more than one apartment at the same price behind those duplicated ads, then they’re in violation of Craislist’s TOU.

You don’t see the difference between a legitimate landlord advertising actual vacancies at identified addresses at prices it’s prepared to deliver at, and rental services touting prices and apartments that often don’t exist? Do you have any grip on reality? Do you have any idea how many rental services this landlord won’t do business with are also advertising its apartments to bait-and-switch renters into less desirable ones?

There are radical differences in the ethical standards that prevail at a reputable brokerage firm and the near total lack of such standards at rental services. You can rant your ignorant rant all you want on that score, but you can’t change that simple fact. And it is a fact.

The major brokerage firms have not gone into direct competition with the rental services and are unlikely to do so. If you knew squat about the brokerage business and the way the firms are structured you’d understand that. But you don’t, and you’re unwilling to learn. Rant away.

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boiztwn January 7, 2013 at 8:27 PM

HA!

So all apartments under those listings are legit? Are those photos accurate? How about PPM’s website, Joe — do they give HOT FRESH TO THE MINUTE UPDATES on all floorplans, pricing, and availability, Joe? Do they?

After all, that is the standard to which you put a 3rd Party paid agency Joe. “Where’s the beef?” You excoriated this firm here, Joe, for throwing up lazy 1-pic ads — with a bunch of random text to randomize it and escape the search filter — and you sit here, saying that one of your sponsors — a Management Company — isn’t puffing the shit out of Craig’s List.

NEWS FLASH: it is not your job to regulate Craig’s List. Craig’s List will regulate on its own. And even here, even now, with multiple examples of horrible, pointless SPAM of the same stock images, you defend your client as being on the up-and-up as you simultaneously call and HARASS licensed agents for “violating Craig’s List’s Terms of Use.”

You beclown yourself with this ridiculous hair-splitting. Continue on in your delusions of grandeur.

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Joe Zekas January 7, 2013 at 9:01 PM

boiztwn,

Unlike you I’ve been in most of the buildings you’ve linked to and the photos are accurate for the buildings I’ve seen, and I’d give you long odds they’re accurate for the buildings I haven’t been in.

Planned Property says nothing about pricing or availability on its website. It only states building and apartment features and shows floor plans. No representation = no misrepresentation, unlike the rental services.

It’s easy to think i’m hair-splitting if you don’t understand what I’ve said – which you clearly don’t and obviously won’t.

For the record, I don’t call anyone and challenge them about Craigslist’s TOU. I do contact people about advertising without the written authorization the law requires, about lacking a license the law requires, etc. For the record, why don’t you clarify how many different properties and unit types are behind your links, to spare people the trouble of checking.

Please return to CribChatter where you can preach to the choir about how I’m nothing but an industry shill. The regulars will lap that up in their parallel universe, where absolutely nobody has the guts to put an actual identity behind that charge or any other one against the brokerage industry.

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boiztwn January 7, 2013 at 9:02 PM

**snort**

Okay, Joe. Whatever you say.

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mahlerbone January 8, 2013 at 10:08 PM

I think at a bare minimum, the 120-day card should be abolished. All it does is invite people into the profession who can continue working with no license after the sponsor period elapses, if the brokerage they work for does not put a high priority on keeping everyone in their office licensed (and a lot of places don’t). This way, at least we can ensure everyone has some sort of license (as much as you can with any licensing, anyway) while they work.

It would be even better to do away with the leasing license entirely, making people work at least moderately hard and prove they are moderately intelligent, before giving someone the right to work with the general public in a very intimate, important capacity.

But, I’d bet the state anticipates they may lose money if they were to eliminate the leasing license – not enough people would transfer to broker to compensate against the fees they earn from licensing for leasing agents.

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Joe Zekas January 8, 2013 at 10:34 PM

Here’s the current license fee schedule.

There are fewer than 1,900 leasing agent licensees. Some would doubtless transition and the higher broker license fees would offset some of the loss. The 120-day permits would be a total loss, and I haven’t seen any stats on their number.

The bigger problem that the Real Estate Division of IDFPR has is that for years the Governor has been “sweeping” supposedly dedicated funds from license fees into the general fund. Those are much larger numbers than any possible diminution in revenue from Leasing Agent license fees.

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