Chicago’s dirtiest dozen rental services – Urban Lux is #2

You’ll find scores of rental services on YoChicago’s do-not-call list. We’re singling out twelve of them – the ones we consider the dirtiest dozen – for a closer look, as part of our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup.

The top spot (chronologically) on our dirtiest dozen roster went to Rent Proactive. Next up on our roster is Urban Lux.

We don’t intend the order of selection to suggest that one company is worse than the other. Our informed opinion is that there aren’t enough differences among the companies we’re selecting for the dirtiest dozen to rank order them.

What does a rental service have to do to earn a place among our dirtiest dozen? Longevity is key – the company has to have first come to our attention some time ago. An online presence that we deem to be significant and frequently untruthful is the second criterion. The goals of the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup include seeking sanctions for illegal online behavior and legislative changes to reduce its incidence, and that requires us to focus on behavior that we can carefully document over a period of time.

Urban Lux was a charter member of YoChicago’s do-not-call list going back to March of 2011, and we’ve previously written about the company’s bait-and-switch tactics and its irresponsibly insecure online application form.

Urban Lux is also a prolific Craigslist spammer, with nearly 1,800 repetitive ads active there as of just after 7 p.m. yesterday.

There are indications in Urban Lux’s Craigslist ads that Craigslist itself may have identified the company as a spammer. Most of the content of each of the company’s ads is presented as a single jpg image, ensuring that the company’s name doesn’t appear in searchable text in its ads. Each of its ads contains a unique string of nonsense text, making the ads appear non-duplicated to Craigslist’s filters. A sample: “round we through my write might live has up where ask eye very it is but draw we give answer run.” Craigslist’s terms of use refer to this as content “spinning” and specifically prohibit it. An Urban Lux affiliate, inRentive, boasts about its “unique ‘Ad Randomizer’ feature, which allowed us to post a vast number of Craigslist compliant listings without a single ghosted ad.” Urban Lux posts are not, however, “Craigslist compliant” with regard to frequency of posting or the inclusion of copyrighted materials owned by others.

We notified Urban Lux by email on December 26 and again on January 3 that it was running unauthorized ads for specific properties that support the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup. Our second notice also called Urban Lux’s attention to its unauthorized use of copyrighted images in those ads. As of 7 p.m. yesterday Urban Lux had a total of 63 ads live on Craigslist for those properties, and continued its use of copyrighted images.

Many of the building entries at Urban Lux’s website and many of its ads are seriously misleading in that they recite popular features, e.g. in-unit washer / dryer, that simply don’t exist at a property. Rents are often understated, often by significant amounts, and don’t appear to be updated at all on some of the properties at Urban Lux’s website. And, yes, I understand that rental amounts and availabilities change frequently enough that an ad can be honest at the time it was placed and inaccurate shortly thereafter. I’ve documented specific instances of understated rents over a long enough period of time to know that’s not the case with a number of Urban Lux ads.

Urban Lux’s online database of properties is so seriously flawed as to make it worse than useless – except as search engine bait, which appears to be its primary purpose. Among other things, it contains 100s of listings for properties that are not rentals and have nothing available for sale, and doesn’t disclose that.

We’ve documented a great deal more about Urban Lux’s online behavior, and we’ll continue to document it, as we will for all of the dirtiest dozen. In due time we’ll present that documentation to the state licensing authorities, and it will be part of the case we make to spur the state legislature to reform the licensing law.

We already have a number of other firms in our cross-hairs, and we’ve called specific instances of what we consider illegal behavior to their attention. We’ll continue to do that, to afford them an opportunity to clean up their act – and as evidence that a failure to do so amounts to willful disregard of the law.

IDFPR has the statutory power to levy fines of up to $25,000 and to suspend or revoke licenses. We don’t believe that $25,000 fines are sufficient to deter recurrences of the kind of behavior we’ve observed over the years, and are hoping that our efforts will result in license suspensions or revocations. We’re also coming to the conclusion that the Leasing Agent license and 120-day permit should be abolished by legislative action as part of cleaning up Chicago’s rental service industry.

How you can help
If you’ve previously worked for a firm you consider one of the dirtiest dozen – or are currently employed by one – and are willing to share relevant inside information about their operations, send an email to yojoe at yochicago dot com or call me at 312-280-9780 x 100. I won’t accept information sent anonymously, but I will keep your identity strictly confidential.

If you’re a landlord or management company that hasn’t given express written authority to rental services to advertise your property, join the Craigslist Apartment Cleanup. If going public is too much of a commitment, monitor rental service ads at Craigslist, hotpads, Trulia and Zillow and flag ads for your property that were placed without your authorization or that involve pirated use of your copyrighted photographs. You can also notify me that you wish to be a silent supporter of the campaign and have YoChicago staff monitor rental service ads for your property.

If you’re in the market to rent an apartment, help yourself and other renters by flagging spam ads at Craigslist. Trulia, Zillow and hotpads have links to report / flag problems as part of each ad. Use them.

If you’re a leasing agent who’s interested in complying with federal, state and local laws that affect online advertising, ask your managing broker to invite me for an office-wide on-site training session. What you learn might save you from incurring $10s of $1,000s in fines or a disciplinary action that permanently blights your future.

Show your support for our efforts by liking our Craigslist Apartment Cleanup page at Facebook.

NOTE: At the margins YoChicago competes with rental services for landlord marketing dollars, so we have a financial stake in keeping the competition honest. Make whatever you will of that.

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