Why PadMapper is worse than useless for Chicago renters

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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