On Zillow, Trulia and hotpads, almost every rental service ad is illegal

by Joe Zekas on 12/26/12

The headline makes a broad but defensible claim, and one that reflects grossly indefensible behavior on the part of Zillow, Trulia and hotpads.

Chicago’s apartment rental services, also known as locators and finders, are independent of the properties they advertise. They often have no business relationship whatsoever with those properties, and run ads that are simply playing bait-and-switch with renters.

The Illinois Real Estate License Act, 225 ILCS 454, prohibits rental services from advertising properties without express written authorization. Almost all of the rental service ads on Zillow, Trulia and hotpads are placed without the written authorization the law requires. Many of them also fail to disclose the advertiser’s business name as the law requires. You wouldn’t have to know any of that, however, to reach the conclusion that almost every rental service ad on Zillow, Trulia and hotpads that’s not for an exclusive listing violates Illinois law.

The websites themselves are responsible for irresponsibly misleading renters about who they’re dealing with when they respond to ads placed on their sites by Chicago’s sleazy rental services.

Take a look at the highlighted areas of the sample ads we’ve included with this post. Trulia and hotpads invite prospective renters to “Contact this property” and Zillow’s button reads “Contact Property Manager.”

Grounds for disciplinary action under 225 ILCS 454/20-20 (a) include:

(9) Advertising that is inaccurate, misleading, or contrary to the provisions of the Act.

(10) Making any substantial misrepresentation or untruthful advertising.

(11) Making any false promises of a character likely to influence, persuade, or induce.

(12) Pursuing a continued and flagrant course of misrepresentation or the making of false promises through licensees, employees, agents, advertising, or otherwise.

(13) Any misleading or untruthful advertising.

A rental service that places an ad on hotpads, Trulia or Zillow is making an explicit representation to the reader that a response to the ad is a contact with the property or its manager. That’s an inaccurate, misleading, untruthful, false promise to the reader designed to “influence, persuade, or induce” the reader to have a comfort level in responding to the ad. Rental services concerned about accuracy should immediately cease placing ads in these venues.

We’ve previously called attention, here and at our Trulia blog, to Trulia’s empty boasts about its efforts to keep “our rental listings scam free and accurate.”

We’ll be communicating with hotpads, Trulia and Zillow in an effort to get them to clean up their act and make at least a minimally responsible effort to provide accurate, truthful information about who their advertisers are to renters.

If you’re looking to rent along Chicago’s lakefront, skip Trulia, Zilow, hotpads, Craigslist and the other outlets for junk ads. You’ll find direct connections to landlords and responsible brokers at YoChicago’s comprehensive at-a-glance apartment lists and maps.

Like our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup page at Facebook to show your support for our campaign to eliminate illegal rental service advertising and make your apartment search faster, easier and more productive.

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