Chicago rental services typically ask renters to submit a check or a credit or debit card authorization for the first month’s rent when they submit an application for a specific apartment. That check or authorization should always be separate from any amount for non-refundable application / credit check fees.
A reputable brokerage firm will not cash a rent check or charge a card until the management company or landlord has approved the renter’s application for an apartment. If an application is not approved, the original check, marked VOID, is returned to the renter.
It’s not uncommon for rental services to cash the rent check or charge the card for rent and deposit it to their account as soon as the application is submitted. You can read many a review on Yelp where that’s been done and the renter has had great difficulty getting their funds returned when their application wasn’t accepted. You’ll also see a number of reviews where the renter reports never having received their money back.
If you’re dealing with a rental service, insist on written confirmation that your check for rent will not be cashed, or your card charged, until your application has been approved. You should be furnished landlord contact information to verify that approval, or written confirmation of the approval.