Chicago scofflaws use Zillow to defraud renters

The ad pictured above repeatedly invites renters to contact property manager Cesar Sandoval to schedule a showing at 1116 N Dearborn. A renter could easily be defrauded into doing just that.

The property pictured in the ad is 1111 North Dearborn. 1116 N Dearborn is a fictitious address. Cesar Sandoval is not the property manager at 1111. To make matters worse, he’s violating the Illinois Real Estate License Act by running the ad without written authority from the actual property manager.

Sandoval is a newly-minted leasing agent license student affiliated with Nick Libert Properties Inc d/b/a Exit Strategy Realty.

The ad for “1116” N Dearborn is just one of many deceptive Exit Strategy Realty ads syndicated to Zillow and other websites via Reallyo.com. Reallyo is one of a number of syndication sites that help make Chicago renters’ apartment search a miserable experience – and help dupe renters into contacting rental service agents.

We wrote yesterday about some of the other scofflaws at Exit Strategy Realty. We sent a link to that post to Nick Libert, the firm’s managing broker, and we’ll send him a link to this one. We don’t expect Libert to take effective action to bring his firm into compliance with applicable laws.

What’s Zillow’s stake in this? Ads generate traffic, and traffic enables Zillow to sell more agents into its Premier Agent program.

Is Zillow aware that it’s fraudulently describing rental service agents as property managers? It’s inconceivable that it’s not. A while back, before Zillow acquired Trulia, I had extensive correspondence with the individual responsible for overseeing Trulia’s rental program, and I know that individual was working diligently to clean up exactly this type of misrepresentation, and had done so in several east coast markets. That person is no longer affiliated with Trulia / Zillow.

It’s been my long experience that brokers who violate one law are highly likely to violate more, and pose a risk to renters.

As a renter, you need to know that the only safe way to avoid falling victim to a scofflaw rental service leasing agent is to avoid all Chicago rental services and work directly with properties. YoChicago’s apartment reviews and lists make it easy for you to find an apartment in sought-after lakefront neighborhoods.

Note: To any reader who might suspect that we’re competing with Zillow / Trulia for rental service advertising. We consider Chicago’s rental services to be irredeemably sleazy and don’t allow them to advertise on this site.

Update 3/7/16, 4:40 pm: Cesar Sandoval’s ads have been removed from Reallyo:

This is typical of the kind of grudging, narrowly-focused response that you can expect from rental service scofflaws. Hundreds of other Exit Strategy Realty ads remain live at Reallyo, and on the sites to which they’ve been syndicated. That includes ads from agents mentioned in yesterday’s post as running illegal ads. We had sent Nick Libert a link to that post to ensure he was aware of the issue.

Added 3/8/16, 10 am: I received a phone call this morning from a Zillow representative who informed me Zillow considers the headline to this post deeply misleading. I was also informed that Zillow’s fraud team is actively engaged in policing abuses.

Zillow has blocked all ads originating from Reallyo.

Update 3/10/16: Exit Strategy Realty terminates scofflaw leasing agent

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