RentConfident in … the Mysterious Affair at Skokie

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The following is a true story. Names, dates and addresses have been changed to protect the innocent.

I am often asked how I connect the dots to assemble our apartment reports. I am also often asked why we charge $65 for our Signature Reports. The answer is simple – unlike other web-based startups that rely on a limited number of data sources and a handful of opinions, our reports require the manual assembly of the latest data available from over 60 different federal, state, county and city government sources. Not only that, but every report requires our researchers to apply all of their knowledge of real estate, leasing, residential rental laws and advanced research techniques.

Today, to give you an example of our work, I’m going to tell you the story of a recent case that pushed my “little grey cells” to the limit.

It was a sweltering spring night at RentConfident HQ. I was working late, paging through newswires about apartment litigation and flash in the pan web startups when the message light on my phone went red. Her name was Melanie. She might have been tall, leggy and gorgeous but I’ll never know since I only spoke to her through text. What I do know is that she’s got two kids, a husband, and a major problem on her hands.

“Landlord wants 2 move his family into our apartment. He’s given 60 days. Looking in Skokie. Can u help?”

Now, I don’t normally take cases in Skokie. They don’t publish the data I need. Chicago may have her flaws but she’s a complete stool pigeon when it comes to giving up the goods on bad landlords. Skokie on the other hand is a tight-lipped, closed-off town. No bona fides, no coverage, no dice, and I said as much to Miss Melanie. But she was insistent and promised to make it worth my while. I took the assignment. What can I say, I’m a sucker for dames in distress.

“Alright, sweetheart. I’ll take your case. The federal, state and county level information is the same, but I’m warning you, when it comes to turning up city data like building code violations and construction permits I’m gonna be out of my depth.”

I figured I’d never hear from her again. After all, what good is an investigation if it can only turn up half of the data? But three days later I get another text. “We’ve found an apartment! We applied for it! Can you check it out for us?” She passed along the address. I shrugged and got to work. Read on for lying landlords, ignorant agents and a cold-hearted condo association.

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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.

Have Computers Eliminated Compassion From the Rental Industry?

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I love technology. I’m a web developer, early adopter, tech enthusiast. Robots, computers and high tech devices are all super shiny symbols of modern life, and I for one welcome our new robotic overlords. It feels very strange to be writing this article. However, some recent research has shown me that technology in the rental industry isn’t just used for sharing photos and paying rent online anymore. Computers and software programs for landlords are meant to minimize liability and maximize income. Unfortunately they’re being used as a new face on old discriminatory practices and are huge contributing factors in recent skyrocketing rent rates.

The biggest landlords in the US are all publicly-traded corporations. They’ve got to keep their shareholders happy by maximizing rental income. Their sheer size draws the attention of fair housing watchdogs. They want to cut their human labor overhead by eliminating trained agents. From a corporate perspective it’s quite obvious why these enormous investment corporations choose to automate as much of the job as possible. Computers are a very appealing scapegoat. They are, on the surface, completely objective. It’s easy to support sensitive decisions by blaming a computer, forgetting that computers are all programmed by humans and therefore susceptible to human failings.

4 examples of harmful apartment technology right this way!

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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.

10 Reasons Why Climate Change Skeptics Should Still Choose “Green” Apartments

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There’s no denying that “green” construction and housing practices have popped up everywhere. In fact, Illinois has long led the country in eco-friendly housing, with the most LEED-certified square footage per resident. Even small private landlords are taking steps to retrofit their properties for the sake of the environment.

It’s our opinion that “green” construction should be a top selling point to all renters, even if they think that climate change is a load of malarkey. Modern environmentally-forward housing doesn’t have to mean stinky compost heaps and weird fluctuating solar power. Much of it is actually less expensive and more convenient for renters. If it makes it easier for you to stomach, think of “eco-friendly” as a codeword for “better housing.” Here’s why.

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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.

Questions to ask your next Landlord about Maintenance and Hiring

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Pro Tip, renters: every sentence that comes out of your mouth in a showing should end with a question mark! Agents and landlords know what aspects of their business are profitable but unpopular. They won’t volunteer such information without you asking.

With the goal of helping renters know what to ask, back in December I posted a collection of questions that renters could use during showings. That article focused on the subject of applications and fees. Today I’m back with more questions, this time designed to help you find out about the landlord’s maintenance and hiring policies.

One of the biggest causes of friction between landlords and tenants is the quality of maintenance. In my years working in property management, the tenants who had the biggest problems with our maintenance and customer service were the ones who spent their apartment showings just looking at the apartment itself without asking any questions about our business practices.

About Hiring

  • What sort of background checks do you run on their staff before hiring?

Read on for more questions!

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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.

Neighbors Unite! Gain Power and Friendship by Forming a Tenants’ Association

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Growing up in the suburbs, I’d chat with neighbors while out walking the dog or taking a break from yard work. Since moving to the city, I’m not so forthcoming. If a neighbor starts talking to me in the building lobby, it makes me wonder when the stabbing will start. The news industry is determined to make Chicago seem like the most crime-ridden city in the United States. Even if you see no personal evidence of crime in your life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting to be the next victim.

This kind of pervasive culture of fear can make renters shy away from interaction with their neighbors. As a result, the first encounter between two city neighbors is far too often a screaming match over small annoyances that have built up and boiled over. Meanwhile, structural problems affecting large groups of renters are never brought to the management as none of renters realize the extent of the damage.

There’s a better way to go about city renting. Today I’ll be explaining the basics of forming a tenants’ association. Renters who participate in these groups can find better safety and great social benefits. Organized renters will also find that they have much more clout when problems arise with landlords and property managers. Read on to find out how to start your own!

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Published by

Jon Hoferle

Jon Hoferle was one of the two founders of RentConfident from 2015-16, serving as content creator and CFO. He has been involved in the Chicago rental industry for over a decade.