Chicago Deserves Better Than Rent Control.

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I’m going to admit right off the bat that I am absolutely terrified of writing this article. The topic of rent control in Chicago has been on my to-do list since it hit the news in early 2018 and every time since then that I’ve looked at that line item I’ve flinched and avoided it. We covered it a little in our newsletter back in March when it was on the primary ballot. It’s never been mentioned in depth in the blog. But nothing going forward in this blog can really be addressed without taking on the matter, and I did recently promise one of my industry colleagues that I would finally go on the record about it, so here we are.

Meet This Article’s Cities

For this article we will be comparing the rental data for a selection of cities and neighborhoods within those cities, each chosen for a specific purpose. We will, of course, be looking at Chicago, which has its own Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance.

We will be looking at San Francisco and New York City, which both have RLTOs but also have rent control. Yes, I could have also included Los Angeles and DC. I could have included a lot of cities. I am one person and this article is already long enough as it is. If you want to take this data and run with an expansion that’s totally fine with me. Continue reading Chicago Deserves Better Than Rent Control.

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Watch Your Head! Viaduct and Bridge Clearance in Chicago

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At 5′-4″, I’m not what you would call a tall person by any stretch of the imagination. But I do have a room in my home with very low, slanted ceilings. Everyone hits their heads on it. After ten years living here I still hit my head on it occasionally. It gives me a little insight into how life would be if I were a little bit taller. (Chances of that ever occurring are about as likely as the those of becoming a baller.) When you’re short you usually don’t have to worry about tall people problems like hitting your head on doorframes, ceilings and low-hanging light fixtures. But even as a short person, when the ceiling comes down to meet you there can be some moderate head trauma.

The same thing happens to drivers who are accustomed to passenger vehicles when they find themselves driving moving trucks around the city. A regular reader recently shared a tweet from the City of Boston attempting to address the number of moving trucks that get stuck trying to cross under the many bridges with very low clearance on one of that city’s main arteries, Storrow Drive. Out there it’s called “getting Storrowed” and it happens every year, causing backups and tons of damage to newcomers who may or may not have gotten that insurance upsell for their rented moving trucks. In North Carolina one 11’8″ bridge is affectionately called the “can opener” for the same reason: it notoriously rips the tops off of trucks driven by drivers who ignore the very obvious clearance warning signs. Continue reading Watch Your Head! Viaduct and Bridge Clearance in Chicago

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Why Are There No Mobile Home Parks in Chicago?

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A recent guest of mine in from out of town commented to me on the absence of trailer parks in the city. This remark brought to the forefront a topic that I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time.

Manufactured housing. Modular housing. Container homes. Mobile homes. They all have assorted differences but they have two things in common. The first is that they are constructed in factories somewhere other than the land they’re intended to occupy. The other is that they are very, very scarce on the ground in Chicago. In any other city a blog about rental housing would spend a whole lot of time talking about mobile home parks but we’ve barely touched on them at all because there’s really no overlap between mobile home renters and Chicago renters.

There is one mobile home park in Chicago. It’s located at 4000 E. 134th Street on the far south side smack up against the border of Indiana and it’s called Harbor Point Estates. There are plenty in the neighboring suburbs, though. In fact, one of the worst airplane crashes in Chicago history occurred in 1979 when a DC-10 taking off from O’Hare landed on a trailer park in Des Plaines, just a few miles from the airport.

The simple reason behind the absence of trailer parks in Chicago is something called “highest and best land use.” The more complicated reason is also “highest and best land use.” So of course we must explain things in more detail. Continue reading Why Are There No Mobile Home Parks in Chicago?

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Eviction Lab: What Chicago Renters Need To Know

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Hey folks! We’re back! Sorry about the lack of article last week. When my computer failed on Tuesday the 10th I figured that I would be able to have it back up and running by the weekend, with enough time to create an article for Monday the 16th. Unfortunately a missed FedEx delivery meant that I was, in fact, offline until Tuesday the 17th, at which point I had to start working on this article here. C’est la vie.

While I was away, not one but two major housing research organizations dropped some pretty major reports on us and my mailbox exploded with people linking me to either the New York Times article on Eviction Lab or the 2018 State of Rental Housing in Cook County from DePaul’s Institute of Housing Studies. We’re going to be looking at both of them over the next two weeks, starting with Eviction Lab. In fact, since they arrived so close together we will be using the exact same format to examine each.

Who is Eviction Lab?

Way back in 2014 I received an email from Matthew Desmond when he was at Harvard University working on a thesis about evictions in America. He asked me for some data I had purchased from the Cook County Courts for an article in my old, dearly departed real estate blog. I provided it to him. His thesis went on to become the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” Desmond is now helming the Princeton University team behind Eviction Lab. They’ve got a heck of a lot of funding and some very smart statisticians and housing research gurus on the team. Continue reading Eviction Lab: What Chicago Renters Need To Know

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Apartment Locator Services: The Fast Food of Chicago Housing

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Over the next few weeks the Craigslist Chicago “help wanted” section will see the return of a familiar springtime presence, the apartment locator services. Every year they hire a fresh crop of new agents to work the summertime rush, only to be let go again come autumn when the season ends.

For those of you who do not live in Chicago, I should take a moment to explain our peculiar setup. We have two tiers of residential real estate agents here. We have the standard real estate agents who handle the sale of houses and condominiums. We also have a special lower tier of agent that is only permitted to handle apartment showings and lease negotiations. Leasing agents have far lower training and certification demands, and in fact they can work for several months without obtaining any certification at all. While a handful of Realtors also dabble in rentals, most leave this lower income work to the leasing agents and focus exclusively on sales.

While some leasing agents work directly for individual landlords or rental departments of larger sales brokerages, most work for companies that specialize in rentals. Here at the RentConfident blog we generally refer to these companies as “apartment locator services” to differentiate them from full-fledged brokerage companies. While there’s no denying that the locators provide a useful service to Chicago folks, there’s no denying that it is a deeply flawed system.

The Problems

The leasing agent’s license requires 15 hours of coursework, mostly in fair housing law. In Illinois leasing agents can work for up to 120 days at the start of their careers without a license. Recent changes to the law in 2018 require these new agents to be enrolled in a training course by the time 60 days have elapsed, but that still leaves them another two months to remain on the job without passing the course. Chicago has had an ongoing problem with leasing agents completing an entire season from hiring to firing without ever completing the pre-licensure work.

While some agents are fantastic, many new agents are notoriously sketchy. They’re known to show up to occupied apartments without notice – in fact they’re so consistent at doing so that my former employer had to stop sending occupied listings to locators entirely. I can recall one spring where I received a flood of complaints from residents about new locator agents showing up at 8am on a Saturday and hitting every buzzer on the panel instead of using keys to get in. Renters who work with locator services will warn others about the standard locator practice of showing a bunch of terrible apartments followed by a mediocre one about $100 outside your stated budget in order to convince you to rent overpriced apartments that would otherwise seem like total dumps.

Unlike Realtors, who usually obtain exclusive rights to list a property from home sellers, apartment locators in Chicago mostly work on a non-exclusive basis. This means that multiple locator companies can have the same apartment listed at the same time, and only get paid if they’re the ones to source a renter for it. This can lead to uncomfortable situations for competing agents and apartment seekers who may arrive at the same time for showings of popular apartments.

The income for your average new rental agent is not phenomenal. Based on our analysis this time last year, even the most well-meaning agent could easily wind up in a situation where they’re earning about $2.50 an hour. Chicago’s minimum wage is $11/hr and will rise to $12/hr in July.

Scum in the Talent Pool

We’ve addressed the troubling pay scale for agents before in depth. But there are certainly people out there who are willing to work ethically and diligently for very low pay. As much as the industry itself is deeply flawed, a lot of the trouble stems from the way that apartment locators present the work when hiring. Their ads are designed to attract people who want easy money for little up-front commitment.

I browsed through the first early batch of help wanted ads on Craigslist. I have for you four ads to review. Two of them are help wanted ads for leasing agents. Two are for entry level food service and delivery positions. I have lightly anonymized the ads to remove anything that would make it glaringly obvious. Ready? Let’s go.

Ad #1

You are outgoing, customer service oriented, hard working, passionate and enthusiastic about what you do and you strive to be the best.

• You like people, and people like you
• You are honest, dependable, and trustworthy
• You are a go-getter who is always ready for the next challenge
• You are highly motivated and want to succeed
• You want to work full time
• You have a car with insurance

Experience is a plus but is not necessary. We will train you. All that you need is a desire to earn large commissions and a strong work ethic. We will do the rest and help you become a successful [Job Title].

Ad #2

* 1+ year of experience as a [Job title] in [industry].
* Have a very positive attitude and be able to work as a member of a team.
* Always be able to work with our [customers] in a courteous and friendly manner, no matter the time of day.
* Have a flexible schedule and be able to work weekends and holidays when necessary.
* [Industry] certification prior to end of training

Ad #3

Skills/Aptitude:
•Presents self in a highly professional manner to others and understands that honesty and ethics are essential.
•Ability to maintain a positive attitude.
•Ability to communicate with co-workers and other departments with professionalism and respect.
•Maintains a professional relationship with all coworkers, vendor representatives, supervisors, managers, customers, and client representatives.
•Ability to use a computer.
•Ability to provide clear directions and respond to employees.
•Basic [industry] skills

General Qualifications:
•Willingness to be open to learning and growing.
•Maturity of judgment and behavior.
•Maintains high standards for work areas and appearance.
•Ability to work a flexible schedule helpful.
•Must comply with any dress code requirements.
•Must be able to work nights, weekends and some holidays.
•Attends work and shows up for scheduled shift on time with satisfactory regularity.

Ad #4

Who are we looking for?
We are looking for upbeat, self motivated professionals that enjoy working with people and are interested in starting a rewarding and successful career in [industry].

What do we offer?
– High income potential
– Training from the best in the business
– Cutting edge [benefit] and tech support
– Flexible schedule (Full and part time)
– Must be willing to obtain [certification] within first [number] days

Requirements
– Self motivated and career oriented
– Professional attitude and appearance
– Reliable and insured transportation
– Knowledge of the city


Did you figure it out? The leasing agent ads are #1 and #4. Kind of hard to tell, don’t you think? Now, food service workers are awesome people. I spent some time working in food service (catering and grocery) myself. They’re generally helpful and hardworking folks. In a city like Chicago with such a focus on gourmet restaurants, some of our high end chefs rival top architects, fashion designers and cinematographers in the areas of creativity, artistry and skill. However, I think we can agree that most food service positions are not “prestige” jobs. They are menial labor, attracting people with minimal education and few other employment options.

Leasing agents are responsible for ensuring that you and your family/roommates are going to be living in a safe and secure housing environment. They are your protectors against fair housing violations. They must be able to recognize major flaws in building construction and warn you about potentially life-threatening hazards in some of Chicago’s oldest and creakiest buildings. They have to know the city as well as a cabbie, understand fine points of legal issues facing assorted protected classes, and be aware of a raft of laws and regulations ranging from fire codes to parking restrictions. But based on the ads I see for leasing agents on Craigslist, apartment locator services are looking to draw from the same pool as restaurants, Uber drivers and sandwich delivery personnel.

If a waiter messes up on the job you might get a case of food poisoning. If an Uber driver messes up you could get in a wreck and have some injuries, but it would be accidental and not due to lack of training. (Given Chicago traffic, it probably won’t be entirely their fault, either.) If a sandwich guy flubs it, your sandwich might not show up by the end of your lunchbreak. If a leasing agent is not properly trained, people can wind up in housing situations that cause them lasting, chronic medical problems for life. People wind up involved in lawsuits that can last for months, if not years. If the past several years of content in this blog have taught you nothing else, I hope they’ve at least conveyed the complex nature of the rental industry in Chicago. It is no place for rank beginners.

How The Other Half Recruits

Allow me to go one step further to prove my point here. As I mentioned above, Chicago has two tiers of residential real estate agents. Below is a help wanted ad for an actual sales-focused Realtor, also found on Craigslist on the same day as the four up above.


Essential Job Duties:

  • Obtain and Follow-up with prospects / leads via written and verbal correspondence. Demonstrate and convey value of product offering.
  • Produce sales and work to obtain or exceed personal sales goals and the collective project goals as assigned by the Company. Utilize self-prospecting techniques to promote self-generated traffic and sales.
  • Acting as sellers’ representative, assist customers and guide them through the new home buying process in a professional manner, serving as a liaison between the buyer and the Client, with the assistance and support of the Sales Manager or Director.
  • Ensure sales office and models are in good condition inside and out, informing Sales Manager of anything in need of repair.
  • Prepare buyer contracts, riders and all other necessary paperwork required for processing the sale of the property.
  • Gather and analyze competitive data to assist in sales and marketing efforts for the project.
  • Act as brand ambassador to the brokerage community by promoting development and relationships.
  • Set-up and maintenance of buyer files and forms, track loan commitment status, work with appraisers, and perform all other duties necessary to ensure a smooth closing.
  • Work closely with the leadership for direction regarding the client’s preferences with respect to contract preparation, riders, ordering supplies and all day-to-day operations of sales office.
  • Attend all seminars, meetings, or events requested by the Company.
  • Please note this job description is not designed to cover or contain a comprehensive listing of activities, duties or responsibilities that are required of the employee for this job. Duties, responsibilities and activities may change at any time with or without notice.

Preferred Qualifications:

EDUCATION and EXPERIENCE

  • Licensed realtor in Illinois required.
  • 5+ years of Real Estate related experience required.
  • Experience in selling developments preferred.

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, And ABILITIES

  • Ability to regularly communicate and analyze data to client and team to achieve project goals.
  • Strong interpersonal skills with an ability to interact with external and internal clients as well as external team members (architects, contractors, client’s representatives, etc.).
  • Exceptional presentation and public speaking skills; impeccable grammar both verbal and written required.
  • Technologically proficient in all areas including but not limited to: familiarity with various operating systems on PCs and Macs and ability to navigate computer software and hardware.

I think that’s a little closer to what people have in mind when they think of a real estate agent of any tier. I know I would be far more comfortable entrusting my housing search to someone who answered that last ad over someone who answered any of the first four. Yet the apartment locator companies of Chicago continue to post help wanted ads that are designed to attract workers whose other options include cafeteria service, dog walkers and pizza delivery.

By continuing to define their employment type as something with no barriers to entry, apartment locators are ensuring that their industry remains the “fast food” of housing. Useful in a pinch, mediocre at best, rarely satisfying. They’re also perpetuating the stereotype that renters are careless, disposable people.

There’s a lot of well-meaning folks with an urge to improve the lot of the lower income sectors, the disabled and minorities. What sort of future would exist for the apartment locator industry if they tapped into those folks instead of pitching their business as a place for slackers to make a quick buck? Can you think of other ways the apartment locator industry could “pitch” itself in want ads that would bring in a better caliber of agents? Let us know in the comments!

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.