WalkScore and Zumper are a serious menace to Chicago renters and landlords

WalkScore is a site that many apartment renters implicitly trust. That trust derives, in part, from the fact that many apartment properties link to the “Walk Score” for their address.

Only the most foolhardy, risk-tolerant of renters should click on any “Contact Property Manager” link on WalkScore or follow a WalkScore link that references the source of property information.

The reason: many Chicago apartment listings on WalkScore route you to an ad at Zumper or another site placed by an agent at a sleazy Chicago rental service.

The above screen caps illustrate a WalkScore ad placed via Zumper by Kyle Licocci of Homescout Realty. Licocci is one of the leasing agents we singled out yesterday as allowing their state broker licensing status to be misrepresented by Homescout Realty.

Clicking the Contact Property Manager link at WalkScore gets you a response from Liccoci rather than from the property manager.

The Zumper ad linked from WalkScore invites you to click an Instant Apply link.

If you follow through the Instant Apply process, it results in the advertiser getting your credit info.

We don’t know much about Kyle Licocci, but we do know that a number of the ads he’s placed at Zumper and in other venues are for properties that explicitly prohibit brokers from advertising. Placing an ad without written authorization is a violation of the Illinois Real Estate License Act. Applying to a Homescout / Licocci-advertised property via the Zumper Instant Apply process results in your personal information being given to a serial lawbreaker. Are you comfortable with that?

We’ve noted in prior posts that the State of Illinois grants real estate licenses to individuals with multiple felony convictions, even convictions involving identity theft. We’ve also called attention to a career criminal who worked at a rental service under a false identity. If you use WalkScore or Zumper, you may be contacting an individual with that kind of history. Are you comfortable with that?

Some of the property ads on WalkScore are legitimate. Savvy renters may avoid legitimate ads after having been exposed to fraudulent ones at WalkScore. Are landlords comfortable with that?

Many Chicago landlords make an effort to police and clean up rental service advertising. Other landlords authorize rental services to advertise their properties. Some landlords wink at illegality knowing that the rental services will badmouth their properties if they don’t cooperate with them.

With or without authorization, Chicago’s rental services have systematically trashed Craigslist, Trulia, Zilow, PadMapper and a host of other sites. Talk to experienced rental agents and they’ll often tell you that spamming, frustrating, deceiving and demoralizing renters is the only way to get them to use their “free service.”

With 1,000s of new apartments coming to market this year in downtown Chicago, you can expect to see new rental services popping up and you can count on the existing ones to expand the scale and scope of their already intolerably lawless behavior.

Chicago’s property owners and management firms are, I believe, unaware of the extent of the severity of the risks to which they’re exposing their prospective renters. Those risks are very real.

The only way to ensure that renters are treated decently, and protected from the predatory behavior of rental service brokers, is to prohibit all broker advertising of properties for which they haven’t been granted an exclusive listing. The brokers should advertise their service rather than advertise properties.

It’s time for property owners and management firms to take a deeper look at what the rental services are doing and crack down ruthlessly on their illegal and abusive advertising.

Finding an apartment in Chicago’s prime near-lakefront is easy if you avoid rental service brokers. You’ll be exposed to a broader selection of properties and you’ll often be able to negotiate a better deal on rent when you ditch the brokers and contact the properties directly.

You’ll find accurate information about properties in Chicago’s popular lakefront neighborhoods on YoChicago’s reviews and lists, and links to near real-time rent and availability info.

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