How unlicensed agents work the system and how to avoid them

Chicago, view north from Astoria Tower penthouse

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail exchange forwarded to me last night. I’ve removed identifying information:

Ok, it will show up as [name of licensed person] because I am waiting on my MLS application to go through. I just was licensed recently, so if you can just confirm with me that would be great. Thanks,

What’s going on here?

Many Chicago apartment rental services – we call them bedbugs – routinely employ unlicensed agents in flagrant violation of state law. Some of those agents never bothered to pursue a license. Others may be unlicensable due to criminal violations or have had their license suspended or revoked for violations. Anyone who deals with them is running an unpredictable gauntlet of risks.

Many licensed agents who participate in the local Multiple Listing Service use an MLS-facilitated service called ShowingAssist to schedule appointments to view homes and condos for sale or rent through the MLS. Accessing that system to schedule an appointment requires signing in with an MLS agent ID.

Back to the e-mail exchange. A rental service agent requests a showing of a condo for rent through the MLS. When requested to use ShowingAssist to schedule an appointment, the agent explains that he is recently licensed and someone else’s name will appear on the request. A check reveals that the agent is not, in fact, licensed. In some cases the agent is licensed and the company is simply cheating the MLS out of the dues it ought to be paying.

A similar pattern occurs with unlicensed rental service agents showing apartments for management companies who have brokerage licenses and are legally barred from paying a commission in a transaction involving an unlicensed agent. The unlicensed agent presents the management company with a copy of a licensed individual’s license information – a fake ID, in effect. Some management companies simply wink at the violation, accepting the same license info from any number of different individuals. Others refuse to play along.

Violations of state licensing law are common in the rental services industry in Chicago, and they put renters at risk and cause them damages on a daily basis.

If you’re looking to rent an apartment in Chicago and working with a rental service agent, ask to see that agent’s state real estate license – and a picture ID that matches it. If the person can’t produce a license, do not accept whatever bogus excuse you’re offered for not having it. Leave immediately.

Better yet, recognize that it isn’t difficult to find an apartment in Chicago, especially in the downtown, Lincoln Park and Lake View neighborhoods. Consult YoChicago’s comprehensive rental Guides and at-a-glance apartment lists and maps. If you’re looking to rent a home or condo, work with a reputable broker rather than a rental service. If you’re unsure of whether a company is a rental service, consult YoChicago’s do-not-call list.

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