Why PadMapper is worse than useless for Chicago renters

by Joe Zekas on 4/17/12

One of our recent commenters touted PadMapper as a way to search for apartments in Chicago, so I thought it might be useful to take a look at what that site has to offer.

If you’re not familiar with PadMapper, it’s a fast, slick, map-based interface to ads largely derived from Craigslist and other sources, combined with a sister site, PadLister, that facilitates the syndication of spam ads:

If you post your listing here, PadLister will automatically generate a beautiful Craigslist ad with high-res pictures and location maps. Additionally, PadLister will automatically syndicate your listing to other property portals, and it will be featured on PadMapper.

I sampled several hundred PadMapper ads, and the great majority of them appeared to be rental service ads derived from Craigslist and Sublets.com.

PadMapper ads
PadMapper makes an effort to exclude properties without an identifiable address, and you would think there’s value in that.

You’d be wrong to attach much value to PadMapper’s efforts, which fail on several fronts. First, its mapping algorithm, as you can see in the above screen cap, occasionally surfaces properties at the wrong location. Second, and more relevant, Chicago’s many sleazy rental services are adept at creating fake but mappable addresses.

PadMapper aggregates ads from sources other than Craigslist, and you would think there’s value in that. You’d be wrong.

Using PadMapper’s filter capabilities provides you with a misleading picture of what’s available for rent. If you filter out Craigslist ads, many of the remaining ads are from Sublet.com – another source that’s been polluted with bait-and-switch ads by Chicago’s rental services – either directly or via PadLister. Other ads have been entered directly into PadLister (PadMapper’s companion site) by rental services. In both cases, it’s mostly Craigslist’s sour wine in a different bottle.

PadMapper also presents a dishonestly limited picture of the apartments you can find on Apartments.com, a site popular with most of the large apartment complexes in Chicago.

I filtered PadMapper to show only listings in Streeterville from Apartments.com, and found only three map points, all linked directly to the ads on Apartments.com. Once there, I searched for apartments in ZIP Code 60611 and quickly found more ads in Streeterville.

PadMapper’s online application
PadMapper offers an online application with a credit and background check, at a cost of $25, that renters can purportedly reuse for multiple landlords who advertise through PadLister. According to PadMapper, that fee is how it makes money.

Here’s how the online application is explained in a recent press release:

Online apartment rental applications also open up some exciting new possibilities for helping renters. “I frequently hear from renters that they hate application fees, especially when they have to submit application after application before being accepted by one. With PadLister’s online applications, a renter can fill it out once, and then reuse the same application multiple times, saving time and money. It’s like the College Common App, but for rentals,” said Eric DeMenthon.

The new rental applications are available now, and you can send a rental application directly to an applicant without creating a listing on the site.

I don’t know a landlord, management company or rental service that would accept a PadMapper application and credit check. It doesn’t contain sufficient information to satisfy the landlords and brokers I know, and they want to perform their own credit checks and screening – and collect the fees for doing so. I couldn’t find any disclosure of that possibility to renters on PadMapper’s site.

As a renter I’d be extremely suspicious of any landlord or broker who solicited or accepted a PadMapper online application. It’s a warning flag that they’re unsophisticated, at best.

No privacy policy
What does PadMapper do with the information renters and advertisers submit online? Your guess is as good as mine, since the site doesn’t appear to have a privacy policy.

PadMapper is based, as best I can determine, in an apartment complex in Mountain View, CA. California Law (pdf) unambiguously requires any commercial website collecting personally identifiable information from California consumers to post a privacy policy online.

My experience tells me to shy away from sites that blow off clear legal requirements.

The takeaway
PadMapper is worse than useless for Chicago renters. It lulls renters into thinking that it delivers something it doesn’t – a great selection of apartments and an easier way to find them.

YoChicago’s at-a-glance apartment lists and maps make it easy for you to find apartments that match your requirements – and all of those apartments are from legitimate landlords. You’ll find a lot more legitimate apartments listed on our at-a-glance lists in the areas they cover than you will on PadMapper.

An even easier way to find apartments is our YoRents service, where you can place a free, anonymous apartment-wanted ad and wait for email from pre-screened landlords who will alert you if they have apartments that match your requirements.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric from PadMapper April 17, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Hi Joe, this is Eric from PadMapper. Thanks for rewriting and getting rid of most of the false pieces from the last version. There are still some inaccuracies, though, and I see that you’ve made a large deal over some of the things I told you via email to replace the allegations I knocked down.

Many landlords do take the applications, and no one is ever “tricked” into filling one out. They’re cheaper than the average application in many cities (in NYC many charge $50-100 per person vs. my $25 app), and a person only has the opportunity to fill one out when a place they want to apply to explicitly accepts them. If the landlord doesn’t accept it, the renter will never even see it, so it’s impossible for them to be “fooled” into filling it out.

You also don’t explain why you think no one would accept the application, except for implying that applications are a profit center for some landlords, which they shouldn’t be. The application includes prior addresses, work information, pets, references, and other details, as well as TransUnion credit check, a criminal history check, an eviction check, a terrorist watch list check, SSN verification, date of birth verification, and others. The things it leaves out are things which would open the renter up to identity theft, such as the SSN itself. If there is some deficit that I can correct, please let me know so that I can improve it.

Unfortunately, Apartments.com doesn’t currently provide PadMapper with all of their listings, but fortunately, some of the other big listings sites that do (ApartmentFinder, Rent.com) fill in a lot of the gaps there since there is overlap between the sites. I’m working with Apartments.com to get their other listings on the site.

For those who are worried about privacy, the software immediately deletes credit card and Social Security information for applications as soon as it pulls a background check, and I have never considered sharing or selling personal information with outside parties. PadMapper doesn’t even ask users to register to use the site unless they want to (there are a few features that are technically infeasible without it).

I dislike privacy policies because they protect the company rather than the consumer, muddle things with legalese that non-lawyers don’t understand, and almost no one reads them. So far, out of the many millions of people that have used PadMapper, only you and maybe two others have asked to see a privacy policy, one of those being my lawyer very recently. That two out of the three people who have asked about it have been lawyers (you being the other one) tells me that it’s not helpful for normal people. Instead, I have always erred on the side of being more respectful of private info.

Some websites (like yours) will only list listings from people who pay them to list. That is a cost that will be passed onto the renter in the form of higher rents, and limits a renter’s options to those landlords who will pay you. Others like Craigslist and PadMapper want to provide as much choice as possible, even though opening it up to everyone means dealing with some bad apples. Dealing with Craigslist may be irritating sometimes, but at the end of the day, the benefits of that wider selection outweighs the downsides for most renters. This is evidenced by Craigslist’s overwhelming popularity compared to other rental sites. PadMapper tries to help people sift through Craigslist and other open sources as efficiently as possible.

I think many thousands of Chicagoans would disagree with your assertion that PadMapper is worse than useless.

Reply

Joe Zekas April 17, 2012 at 5:22 PM

Eric,

I’ll respond in more detail later, but want to point out that this statement of yours is completely false:

Some websites (like yours) will only list listings from people who pay them to list. That is a cost that will be passed onto the renter in the form of higher rents, and limits a renter’s options to those landlords who will pay you.

Our at-a-glance apartment lists and maps are a genuine effort to include every apartment complex in their coverage area, with links to their websites, at absolutely no charge.

Reply

Eric from PadMapper April 17, 2012 at 7:17 PM

I should have clarified, I was talking about YoRents, which states that for landlords “Participation is free for a limited time.” That implies that you will only include landlords that are paying you.

Are your lists and maps only for complexes that have open availabilities? If not, then they’re going to result in a lot of wasted time. I clicked 5, and 3 of them gave me 404 page not found errors, implying that they may not be well maintained.

Reply

Joe Zekas April 17, 2012 at 8:10 PM

Sorry about the page not found errors, Eric. We have a major landlord who recently switched over a large number of buildings from a single site to individual property sites, and several properties that have changed hands recently. The list will be updated shortly.

Our lists and maps are not limited to complexes that have open availabilities – nor are the bait-and-switch ads posted on your site by rental agents. At least ours enable renters to connect directly with reliable sources of information – the landlords and management companies – and many of their websites have online availability checks.

Our lists also insulate our readers from the biggest time wasters of all – the rental services that are the core of your listing base. Try calling on some of your Chicago-area ads some time and see what response you get. You’re likely to be unpleasantly surprised.

Reply

Joe Zekas April 17, 2012 at 6:01 PM

Eric,

The words “tricked” and “fooled” are yours – not mine, despite your having placed them in quotes. I accurately stated that you make no disclosure of the possibility that a renter may have to pay more than once after filing an online application.

Most of your listings come from rental services, a group in Chicago that’s known for lying online about anything and everything, and many of those listings are for buildings that will not accept a PadMapper application under any circumstances. The rental services, however, have every incentive to encourage people to file those online applications and subject them to paying fees more than once.

Given the fact that most of your listings come from rental services, and that landlords generally don’t trust Chicago rental services on applications, your statement that “If the landlord doesn’t accept it, the renter will never even see it” is ludicrous.

I didn’t explain why the landlords and brokers I know won’t accept PadMapper applications because the reasons are obvious to anyone who knows anything about the business. They want to see the full credit report, not your snapshot of it. They want the SS # and they want a Driver’s License # and a picture ID. They want copies of recent pay stubs or W2s, etc. They want an actual employment check. The ones who want criminal backgrounds check would view yours as inadequate. Etc. There’s no way to “improve” your online application in a way that will get very many landlords, management companies or established brokers to accept it.

Whether you dislike privacy policies or not, or whether anyone reads them or not, or what their typical rationale might be, are issues that are irrelevant to the question of whether you’re in compliance with California law and similar laws in force in other states, and whether that compliance has any bearing on your site’s credibility. The fact that you may have heard from few people is meaningless. I suspect that many, like me, simply avoid non-complying sites rather than waste time contacting them about it.

As noted in an earlier comment, our apartment lists and maps don’t require anyone to pay to be included in them. And, while opening the lists up to everyone, we do exclude landlords we know to be what you refer to as “bad apples.” The “wider selection” you refer to is illusory in some cases. We surface more legitimate apartment contacts in our lists than you do on your site, and we link to legitimate brokerage sites where consumers can find MLS listings for individual condos and homes for rent.

ApartmentFinder surfaces only one Streeterville listing – one of the 3 you had from Apartments.com. I’d have to give up my email address, which I won’t do, to see any listings at Rent.com, but it should be obvious from my post that you didn’t gain any listings from Rent.com that you didn’t get from Apartments.com. No gaps were filled in in the area I checked by your access to ApartmentFinder and Rents.

Many thousands of Chicagoans disagree with many of my assertions. I wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Your response, in my take, reinforces my opinion that PadMapper is worse than useless for Chicago renters.

Reply

Eric from PadMapper April 17, 2012 at 7:35 PM

A large number of landlords use the applications successfully and happily, but thanks for the feedback, I’ll take it under advisement.

It absolutely is relevant that I’ve heard from few people on the subject – if I receive 20,000 pieces of feedback, and 2 of them are about an issue, it’s likely to be a relatively unimportant issue unless the contents of those two are pretty dire.

I have a feeling that you have more free time to spend arguing about these things than I do, and an axe to grind, so it’s probably counterproductive for me to keep discussing. Thanks for the feedback on some of the things, though, and best of luck getting your service off the ground. The proof is in how many people benefit from each service, so prove me wrong, and I’ll work on doing the reverse.

Reply

Pete April 18, 2012 at 11:41 PM

All worthwhile apartment ads should charge the landlord at least $100 to post the ad. It would make spamming much more expensive while not impacting legitimate landlords in an unacceptable way. If PadMapper worked like this, it would be an awesome service (the map is very slick).

A free apartment ad is only worth what someone paid for it.

Reply

boiztwn May 4, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Ridiculous. Is there ANY rental site with which you do not agree? And that’s a rhetorical question. Naturally, I await your oh-so-literal response.

Reply

Link N. Parker April 15, 2013 at 12:53 PM

I noticed as well, that Joe never agrees with, or endorses, any other rental website or rental agency…they are all “scams” in his mind…now I know why…its because he has his own rental website! Ah ha…now the truth comes out.

But in all fairness, a lot of the craigslist ads are indeed fake…the ads are designed to get you to contact the leasing agent because you think you are going to get a sweet pad in a perfect location for the perfect price, only to find out that the unit has already leased, and then be told “but dont worry, we have other units to show you”…the old bait-and-switch trick.

Reply

Joe Zekas April 15, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Re-read the post, where you’ll find a link to apartments.com – a site I’ve recommended several times in the past. We’re one of the very, very few websites that ever recommends other real estate websites.

You might also want to note that we haven’t promoted YoRents in recent months.

Reply

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