Patrolling the Pit of Despair: Craigslist’s “Apartments Wanted” Section

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Buried deep within the bowels of Craigslist lies a little-visited section called “Housing Wanted.” You might think that it’s an ideal sort of situation. Tenants post the specifics of their perfect apartment and landlords come to them. In some sections of the world where there’s a lot more rental housing than there are renters this is actually the case. In Chicago it is the pit of despair. It’s where tenants who cannot find housing through any other means wind up when they’ve exhausted all other options, along with a few newcomers who remain unaware about how Chicago rental market works. In contrast to the very busy “apartments for rent” section which sees about 2000 new posts a day, the Housing Wanted section gets about 10-20 posts per day, many of them miscategorized.

The authors of the posts in “apartments wanted” have usually been turned down for several apartments already. Faced with repeated rejections many of them will put in their postings the reasons why they have been unsuccessful thus far. An analysis of this section will give us a pretty clear idea of what it takes to completely fail an apartment hunt. And I do mean fail – if you are posting here you will not find housing until you change either yourself or your search criteria. Continue reading Patrolling the Pit of Despair: Craigslist’s “Apartments Wanted” Section

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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.

Questions to Ask Your Landlord and Agent About Data Security

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Wow, it’s been over a year since the last installment of the Questions series!

Security of personal information has been in the news lately. Companies have been getting their privacy policies in order as the deadline for compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation approaches. More and more sites are warning you that they use cookies to store information. Green padlocks have been popping up all over in response to Google’s crackdown on unencrypted websites. Facebook is in hot water for providing user data to Cambridge Analytica.

Renters entering the housing market this year will be doing so after months of fear mongering about data security, identity theft and compromised passwords. They will come up against lengthy rental applications that ask for enormous amounts of personal data, leading many to wonder exactly how landlords, who often operate their businesses out of spare bedrooms and converted storefronts, are equipped to safeguard that information.

It’s become quite common and expected for landlords to pull credit reports on tenants. To do so they need your name, birth date, social security number and most recent address. This is certainly enough information to steal your identity. If you’re working with an agency, the agency will ask for that same data and provide it to landlords with every application you complete. Even so, renters who are desperate to be accepted for an apartment rarely bother to ask their agents and prospective landlords about the practices they follow in the office to keep personal renter information secure. With that in mind, here are some questions you should ask any prospective landlord or agent before you fill out that application.

As is the case with all installments in the Questions series, you should not ask every question on this list or you risk being marked as a hostile applicant. Choose one or two, and only go into further depth if you get answers that make you feel uneasy.

For All:

  1. What screening practices do you use for employees who handle financial information and credit reports?
  2. How long do you retain application information and credit reports? How about rental history? (Unless an applicant is suspected of using stolen information, data should only be retained until the tenant moves in. If the landlord wants to file suit for fraud against a tenant using falsified information, they can keep evidence on file for up to five years. Payment information and maintenance request logs can be kept for up to 10 years from expiration of the final lease in Illinois.)
  3. If you keep paper copies of credit reports in the office, how do you secure them?
  4. Are digitized versions of credit reports stored on a web-facing computer? If so, what security practices do you follow for that computer?
  5. Is there any point in your data chain where personal financial information is transferred to an employee’s laptop, mobile phone or other portable device?
  6. Is there any point in your data chain where credit reports or applications are sent over potentially unencrypted methods such as FAX, email or unencrypted websites?
  7. If you encountered an application using obviously stolen information, what would you do?
  8. What systems do you have in place for destroying sensitive information when you’re done with it? (Paper copies should be burned or pulverized. Disk drives should be destroyed.)
  9. Do you pull entire consumer credit reports or do you use a service that only provides a score? (Score-only is safer from a data standpoint, but if a landlord can see the full report it may allow them to be more lenient with people who have weak scores due to unrelated issues.)
  10. Do use contact information obtained from applicants for any reason other than processing the application? (Marketing newsletters, selling to advertisers, etc.)
  11. If I asked you to delete my file when you’re done with it, would you do so? (The US has no “right to be forgotten” as the EU does, so this is entirely up to the whims of each business.)
  12. If you accept applications through your website, does your web developer or any other outside company still have access to the database?

For Landlords Only:

  1. How much proof of identity do you require from other landlords before disclosing a tenant’s rental history? (Landlords will often call previous landlords directly to verify a tenant’s rental history. It’s a common weak link in data security.)
  2. How many people have access to tenant applications and credit reports?
  3. If you accept online rent payments, what service do you use to process them?
  4. If you accept credit card payments for rent, is there any point in the payment chain where your employees can see a tenant’s entire unmasked credit card number?
  5. Do you allow renters to provide their own credit reports? (They absolutely should not, as this encourages identity thieves to use stolen information to obtain apartments.)
  6. How secure is the office where you keep tenant files?
  7. If tenants have access to online accounts, can anyone in the company or at third party web design companies see their username and password?

For Agencies:

  1. How much data do you provide to landlords when I apply for an apartment?
  2. Do you verify a landlord’s data security practices before approving them as clients who can receive credit reports?
  3. What sort of training do your application processors get in best practices for data security?
  4. Does this office have any licensed Realtors or mortgage brokers working in-house? (These businesses have more restrictive laws governing their data retention and must submit to annual third party audits.)

If after asking these questions you get answers that make you uncomfortable, that does not necessarily mean that the landlord is a bad landlord. They may be behind the technological times but this is not uncommon within the industry. Bad data security practices shouldn’t put you off from applying for that perfect apartment.

You can, however, respond to that discomfort by writing “call for information” in the social security number and birth date fields instead of the requested information. When the call comes in, make it very clear that if they write down the information it should be on a separate piece of paper from your application that bears no other identifying info and gets shredded immediately after use.

RentConfident is a Chicago startup that provides renters with the in-depth information they need to choose safe apartments. Help us reach more renters! Like, Share and Retweet us!

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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.

March 2018 Primaries: The Issues for Renters

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We want to start this off by saying that this is not a voter’s guide. We had planned to do a voter’s guide. In the previous articles in this series we said we would do one. Upon examination of the ballot we’ve decided that there are just too many races for us to cover in a single article. So while we will mention a few individual candidates here we will not be giving endorsements. (Since we’re a business we really shouldn’t be giving endorsements anyhow.) Rather, we will be looking at some of the main issues at stake in the March 2018 Chicago primaries and things that renters should consider as they review the candidates.

Rent Control (100/HB 2430)

State Representative Will Guzzardi’s campaign to repeal the statewide ban on rent control has been in process for two years now. Some of our regular readers may in fact be surprised that we have not yet done a full article on the issue here in the blog. We have, however, addressed it in our monthly newsletter way back in March of 2016. It is our belief that while rent control is a great concept in theory and that it might work for other cities and towns within the state of Illinois, it will not work well for a city as segregated as Chicago. Rent control is a way for the government to cap rent increases in privately-owned rental housing. In an ideal world, tenants in a rent controlled apartment would be able to stay in one place for a long time without worrying about exorbitant rent increases. Landlords are, however, able to raise rents to match market rates again once the rent-controlled tenants move out. Continue reading March 2018 Primaries: The Issues for Renters

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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.

Job Descriptions for Elected Officials in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois

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In preparation for the March 20, 2018 Illinois Primary we are running a series on voting and elections in Chicago. Last week we featured the Chicago Newcomers’ Guide to Elections. This week we will be reviewing the job descriptions for every position on the ballot, from the smallest to the largest. Of course, as is the RentConfident way, we will be explaining these roles from the viewpoint of how they affect the lives of renters and landlords. This means we won’t be talking much about highways, hospitals and steel mills here but we will be talking a lot about evictions and property taxes.

We should note that this the March election is a primary. The people you choose this month will not take office. In a primary, multiple candidates from the same party run against each other. The winners from each party in the primary will go up against the winners from the opposing parties in the November election.

However, there are two sections of the ballot that are not simply nominations. On the ballot for the Democratic Party is a spot for the Democratic State Central Committee members. This is an actual election. Additionally the five referenda appearing on the ballot are binding and will not appear again on the November ballot.

We’ll start with the Chicago-specific offices, then move on to the Cook County, the State, and finally the Federal offices.

Before we launch into the full list, we want to emphasize that there are three positions on the ballot that are of critical importance to landlords and tenants.

  • The Cook County Sheriff is responsible for enforcing evictions.
  • The Cook County Assessor is responsible for setting property tax rates, which in turn have a huge effect on rent rates.
  • The Judicial 1st Sub-Circuit seat of Orville Hambright requires the close attention of every landlord and tenant on the voter rolls. Hambright retired in late 2017 after hearing the lion’s share of eviction cases at the 1st District courthouse in the Loop for a very, very long time. While many judges in the circuit court hear eviction cases, few have measured up to the enormous eviction caseload that went through Hambright’s courtroom. Whoever takes his seat will have enormous shoes to fill. Continue reading Job Descriptions for Elected Officials in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois
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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.

The Chicago Newcomers’ Guide to Elections

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It’s March! In Chicago this means it’s election season. We’ve previously discussed the low level of civic activity among renters, and how the input of renters at the polls can affect the caliber of a neighborhood. We’ve also provided a list of all the laws that went into effect this year as evidence of what the incumbents have accomplished while in office. We also talked about how renters are under-represented in Chicago public office. Now it’s time to put all of that together, get your butts off the couch, and go vote.

While the standard November election day is still important, a lot of the Illinois official business actually occurs at our statewide Primary voting in March. This year (2018) the Primary election will occur on March 20, just a few weeks away. Since we have a lot of newcomers and folks who have recently moved reading this blog, we figured we’d spend this week reviewing the basics of voting in Chicago. Continue reading The Chicago Newcomers’ Guide to Elections

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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.