Tag Archives: crime

The Online Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them

Would you marry this person? No? Then why would you rent from a landlord if you couldn’t meet him nor see the apartment first?

Here’s a fable for you. You’re hunting for an apartment online. You have a budget that’s towards the lower end and are tired of looking in the bad neighborhoods, so you take a quick look over into a trendy, name brand area. Suddenly you spot it! A three bedroom house for rent for just $800, when all of the other listings are $2000! And it’s empty and move-in ready. The address is even in the listing so you’re pretty sure it’s legit.

You contact the landlord. They say they’re out of the country working with the Peace Corps in Africa, so they can’t meet you in person. However, they suggest that you go drive past and take a peek in the windows if you like. You might do so. Or maybe you think, “gosh, this landlord is so clueless keeping the rent so low! I should jump on this before he figures out what the real value of his listing is.” (more…)

Dear Piggy: Questions from the Readers

I’m writing this on Tuesday night at 7pm. I’m deliberately avoiding watching the election results. So you guys get an omnibus of nine questions that have come in from the readers.

I didn’t show up for eviction court in Cook County. What will happen?

Generally if one side shows up for eviction court and the other doesn’t, the present person generally “wins” the case – for now. So, if the tenant appears but the landlord does not, then the landlord has to start all over again and re-file a new case. If the tenant doesn’t show up but the landlord is present, it’s a bit more complicated. The landlord will have to prove that the tenant was served with proper notice of the court date. They will also have to prove that the tenant has committed the offense that is causing the eviction case, be it non-payment or some other behavioral problem. A landlord in this case will probably get possession of the unit but no money judgment. However, the landlord should not rest on their laurels – many tenants in this sort of situation will “lawyer up” and get the case reopened before the sheriff can actually come around to evict.

If my landlord takes a utility bill addressed to me out of mailbox is he responsible for paying it?

First of all, if the landlord takes anything addressed to you out of your mailbox, she has committed mail fraud. This is a federal offense punishable by a minimum prison sentence of five years.

As for the financial repercussions. If your bill is tied to your name and your social security number, your credit score will bear the brunt of it going unpaid. So regardless of whether or not you think the landlord has “claimed responsibility” for paying the bill by taking it, you have a responsibility to ensure that the bill gets paid on time. I would get a backup copy from the utility company’s online account system and pay it anyhow.

However, if you don’t pay your heating bill and your pipes freeze and burst, your landlord will bear the cost of repairing the damage. The repair bills will certainly exceed your security deposit. So the landlord has a vested interest in ensuring that you’re current on your heating bills, but generally not to the point of paying it themselves. A smart landlord, though, would find out the status of payment in another way or just deal with repairing the damage afterwards. In my opinion, it’s better to be able to bring an air-tight damage suit against a tenant after the fact than to incur a five year stay in a federal prison.

Is a two flat in Chicago bound by the landlord tenant ordinance?

For two-flats, if the landlord lives in the building it is exempted from the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance but is covered by the Illinois state ordinance (PDF) instead. If the landlord does not live in the building then it is covered by the Chicago ordinance.

My tenants’ apartment is disgusting. Can I ask them to clean for showings?

Well, technically, yes. And according to the CRLTO they have to comply.

CRLTO Section 5-12-040 Tenant responsibilities.

Every tenant must:

(a)     Comply with all obligations imposed specifically upon tenants by provisions of the municipal code applicable to dwelling units;

(b)     Keep that part of the premises that he occupies and uses as safe as the condition of the premises permits;

(c)     Dispose of all ashes, rubbish, garbage and other waste from his dwelling unit in a clean and safe manner;

(d)     Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits;

(e)     Use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, in the premises;

(f)     Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any person on the premises with his consent to do so; and

(g)     Conduct himself and require other persons on the premises with his consent to conduct themselves in a manner that will not disturb his neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the premises.

The pertinent bits here are items (b) through (e) above. As always I recommend that landlords try to negotiate a more calm & reasonable resolution to the problem before they throw the book at their tenant. However, in a worst case scenario the landlord can present the tenant with a 10-day “cure or quit” notice which mandates that they clean up their act within the next 10 days or their lease will be terminated.

However.

If the tenant does not comply with the notice then the landlord will have to evict them in order to enforce the notice, so obviously this is not terribly effective when it comes to an apartment that will probably be empty in a matter of weeks anyhow.

Here’s my personal thoughts on the matter. If a tenant has such poor housekeeping skills that the apartment is “disgusting,” I highly doubt that their cleaning efforts under duress will be too impressive. Chances are you will need a few days or even weeks to get the place cleaned up in between tenants, so why bother wasting your time showing a dirty apartment? It won’t rent at a top price, and you’ll have to show it many more times to find a tenant. Besides, the only tenants who will probably like a messy apartment are also messy, so you’ll wind up with a self-perpetuating cycle of filth. Here’s what I would do instead.

  • Explain to the tenant that the apartment is too messy to show in its current condition.
  • Explain that the condition of the apartment has been noted in their file.
  • If your lease doesn’t already allow for specific cleaning costs, provide the tenant with the prices for a deep clean by a professional maid service and make sure that they know you will have to deduct that cost from their security deposit.
  • Hold off on showing the apartment until it’s empty and clean.

Can I pretend that my friend was my past landlord?

This is called “fraud.” It’s a bad idea, although tenants with poor rental history (or tenants who assume that their landlord hates them for any reason) do it all the time.

Will you get caught? That depends on if your landlord verifies ownership of your current address or not. It’s very easy to do. If you get caught, I’d personally not be surprised if your landlord rejects your application.

If you don’t get caught before you sign the lease, you’re pretty much in the clear. Even if you wind up in eviction court and the landlord accuses you of falsifying the application, it’s his neck on the line for not doing enough research.

Courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Chicago History.

What’s the difference between redlining and steering?

Redlining and Steering are both practices that violate fair housing law. Redlining was originally a mortgage lending term which drew a “red line” around certain neighborhoods. Applicants that didn’t fit a particular profile would not be granted loans to purchase property within the red line. Steering occurs when members of certain demographic groups are “steered” towards neighborhoods that are known to be dominated by that same group – e.g., Asians being shown only properties in Chinatown.

So basically, Redlining keeps people out of a neighborhood. Steering pushes them into specific enclaves.

Both are illegal.

Can tenants watch TV at any time of night?

I’m guessing that this is really a noise question. Look up to where I quoted the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance above. As long as the tenants aren’t disturbing their neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of their homes and apartments then the tenants can do whatever they want. However, if neighbors are complaining that the noise from the TV is affecting their sleep, health or ability to use certain rooms of their house, then the landlord may need to step in.

Of course, the tenants should try to work out the noise issue between themselves before escalating it to involve any authority figure, be it the landlord or the police. The landlord’s only recourse will be a written reprimand or, in the worst case scenario, a 10-day “cure or quit” notice followed by an eviction case.

When can you charge a late rent fee in Chicago?

Illinois and Chicago do not have “grace periods” for rent payments. Therefore, unless a lease specifies a grace period, rent is late on the day after it is due and fees can be assessed at that time. Also, bear in mind that while the IRS may count the date of postmark, a landlord doesn’t have to. As for what time late fees should be assessed, that’s up to you. I personally recommend giving the benefit of the doubt and assessing late fees when business opens the day after rent is due. I know some landlords who assess late fees as soon as midnight passes, though. Either could technically be claimed as valid, but the former is more likely to hold up in court.

Will my cat stick to my radiator?

Not unless you physically attach him to it.

Cats are generally smart enough to move away from dangerously hot objects like stoves and radiators. A radiator heated by steam (212 degrees F) will not get hot enough to melt fur (300-400 degrees F depending on humidity). It might give him a little burn the first time he touches it, though, so use caution around kitty the first time the radiators come on.

10 Steps to Secure Your Home or Apartment for Showings

So your landlord or an agent has called to say that she needs to show your home.

For owners this should come as no surprise. If your house is on the market, showings will happen and your agent will probably request that you absent yourself while they occur.

For renters, showings may be a surprise as they can happen at any time of year. You don’t have to be moving out. A showing in the middle of your lease does not necessarily mean that your apartment building is for sale! Your landlord may be trying to get a better insurance rate or refinance the property. Both of these tasks could require access to your apartment. You should grant it provided that your landlord gives you proper advance notice.

Regardless of who is coming to view your apartment, though, you can be certain of one thing – strangers will be entering your living quarters and you may not be able to be home when it happens. Whether it’s a new prospective renter, an appraiser or a Realtor, you’ll want to take precautions to make sure that you’ve safeguarded your belongings. After all, your landlord’s insurance won’t cover the items if they go missing or get damaged.

Google currently shows over 36 million results for the phrase “robbed during an open house.”

Here are ten things you can do to make sure your stuff stays safe when your home has an encounter with stranger danger.

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Porker’s Index III

It’s been a while since I did a Porker’s Index and they’re always fun.

Since I’ve got foreclosures on my mind lately let’s start with…

… not quite what I had in mind.

The Shadow Market

“Shadow market” in terms of home sales refers to incomplete short sales, pending foreclosures, and homeowners who are at least 3 months behind on their mortgage payments.

Unemployment in Chicago
August 2010: 11.4%
August 2012: 10.3%[1]

Mortgages over 90 days past due in Chicago
August 2010: 10.4%
August 2012: 10.2%[2]

Amazing how little has changed over the past two…

Months’ Inventory of Distressed Property, Chicago Metro Region
August 2010: 30.2
August 2012: 19.4[3]

Wait… what?

Moving right along, one of the main problems with distressed properties (short sales, foreclosures, and delinquent mortgages) is people spending too much on their mortgage payments.

Mortgage Overspending (more…)

  1. [1]Bureau of Labor
  2. [2]CoreLogic
  3. [3]CoreLogic

The Return of Operation Porchlight

We interrupt this blog to bring you some breaking news.

So guys, remember when I posted a couple of weeks ago about my idea to pair up apartment residents with empty houses on Halloween? Well it turns out that some of my friends thought it was a cool idea, so there’s now a website for the project which I might have whipped up over this weekend instead of writing a real blog post.

Operation Porchlight

The new online headquarters for the campaign can be found at OperationPorchlight.com, or Facebook (facebook.com/operationporchlight) & Twitter (@Porchlight_Chi).

We’d like to get about 20 volunteers to adopt up to 10 porches for a few hours on Halloween night. If you’re interested in helping us out, either as an adopter, a housing scout, or in any other way, please let me know. I’d love to get some press attention on this dry run so that we can be on a firm footing for 2013.

Weekend Links: August 18, 2012

No themes or schemes for this installment of the weekend links.

The Green Roof on Chicago’s City Hall. [via CityofChicago.org]

It’s not easy being green. WBEZ looks into the success rate of Chicago’s Green roof programs and the future for this environmentally-friendly innovation in a market with minimal development. (“A green roofs check-in, Anthony Martinez, WBEZ.org)

…But the city may be able to help. Would you like a free programmable thermostat for your home? How about free low-flow showerheads, CFL lamps, energy audits or tax-break incentives towards green upgrades? The Retrofit Chicago program has been expanded to include the Residential sector, with a focus on older buildings. (“Residential Phase of Retrofit Chicago Launched,” CityofChicago.org Press Release)

1952 called, it wants its racism back. Seriously guys, I thought we were past all of this nonsense by now. A father in Cincinnati has sued his landlord for posting a “whites only” sign at the building’s swimming pool. (“Father: ‘White Only’ pool sign caused suffering,” AP via HeraldExtra.com)

Condo assessments now optional, says Illinois court. In a ruling that has attorneys and condo associations nationwide looking on in horror, an Illinois court has deemed that owners are entitled to withhold their assessment payments if the association is not sufficiently maintaining the common areas of the property. Can anyone else see the potential for disaster in this? (“Ruling could change course of collection proceedings,” Pamela Dittmer McKuen, Chicago Tribune.)

Reuters is all up in our business. A recent Reuters article about whether condos are a viable alternative to college dorms has a very familiar ring to it. I may be kind of biased, but I like our take on the situation better. (“Condos for college kids? Do the math first,” John Wasik, Reuters.)

Eviction(s) of the week. I talked about passive-aggressive tenants, but these guys are just plain aggressive. Of course, you’ve probably heard already that Colorado gunman James Holmes was evicted from his apartment in Aurora. Booby-trapping his apartment and murdering multiple people are cited as the causes for the eviction, although Holmes has not yet officially been convicted of the killings. Meanwhile, an officer in Texas was killed by a tenant while he was in the process of serving eviction papers. Be careful out there, guys. (“Holmes officially evicted from Aurora Home,” CBS News. “Eviction’s deadly turn no surprise to law officers,” James Pinkerton, Chron.com)

Agents, you be careful too. Local Chicago wholesale real estate agent RJ Cit tells us the story of working with an unstable veteran in the process of selling the distressed and badly underwater home of the vet’s deceased father. Stalking, threatening phone calls, and assorted other hijinks ensue. Part I and Part II. (“Wholesaling Real Estate – Worst Seller Ever,” RJ Cit, ChicagoCashFlowProperties.com)

 

Stat check: Real Estate & The Sex Offense Registries

Megan’s Law means sex offender registry information is available to the public, but is anyone using it?

Do Sex Offenders Affect Home Values?

I may get in a lot of trouble for this entry. Gonna do it anyway. This has become crimes & misdemeanors week here at StrawStickStone so I might as well finish in the same vein.

So most of us know that there are websites that US Residents can use to look up whether or not a registered sex offender is living in the immediate vicinity. California’s “Megan’s Law” and similar legislation in the other 49 states require the information to be freely available to the public. The registries are maintained by the FBI, Department of Justice and local police forces. They’re pretty darn accurate.

Here’s one.

Here’s another.

If you’re in Illinois, here’s a third.

When the laws were first enacted, there was some pushback from homeowners who feared that publication of registered sex offenders’ addresses would have a severely negative effect on home values. I’ve been wondering for years if this has actually been the case. (more…)

When your apartment is a crime scene

I don’t recommend reading this article while eating. We’re getting a little gross today.

Crimes and situations requiring the presence of the police unfortunately happen quite often in apartment buildings. As the density of people living together increases, so do the odds that one of them is doing something illegal. As we discussed on Monday, sometimes all the background checking in the world can’t clue you in to a tenant’s mental illness, deranged behavior or upcoming nervous breakdown.

We’ve spoken before about how landlords can prepare for worst case scenarios but we haven’t discussed what really happens when the first responders have to step in and take over. Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with many situations of this nature – I’ve dealt with stalkers, domestic violence, parking lot hit & runs, drug busts, marijuana gardens, suicides, gas leaks, hoarders, fires, break-ins and death from natural causes. (This would be one of the reasons I left property management in favor of brokerage.) If your apartment becomes a crime scene, here’s what to expect, what to do, and what to avoid.

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Sometimes You Can’t Tell

Note: due to the recent conviction of James Holmes, this article is receiving some new visitors. Welcome! Please bear in mind that this was written 3 years ago.

A great investment! Instant cash flow! Buy it today! (Strong constitution required.)

Paris is for … Landlords?

1690 Paris Street is a 129 unit apartment complex on 111,115 square feet of land. It has 11 buildings containing roughly 12 units each. It has a sweet 3.9% vacancy rate, convenient location, and the units have, according to the sales flyer I have here, been maintained well over the years by a “hands on” owner.

It was listed on the market for two months the autumn of 2010 for $6.4 million. They tried again in early 2011 at the same price. It nets about $519k per year for an 8.06% CAP rate. I can’t tell if it changed hands or not.

It’s also probably it’s current owner’s worst nightmare come true.

1690 Paris Street, Aurora, Colorado. Home of James Holmes, who filled his apartment with so many booby traps and explosives that it took the bomb squad two days to clear it out with robots. An apartment building full of medical students who all made it their first choice in a rental search at some point over the past few years, thinking “I want to call this place home.” Now it’s a poster child for “worst case investment property scenario” making landlords across the country reach for the Xanax and hope that nobody in their buildings has done the same thing. (more…)

Landlord Hacks: Calling the Prior Landlord

Landlords who use just a credit report to background check their clients really bug me. Rental payments are very rarely reflected in a credit score. Experian has a specific credit score for rentals now but it only applies if the prior landlords have been reporting payment history to Experian. This does not happen in the real world.

I know that reliance on the credit report has become a quick and legal way to assess the chances of a tenant paying rent on time. However, when the [bleep] hits the fan many tenants will stop paying their bills, but keep paying the one thing that doesn’t show up on the credit report: their rent.

This is one of the reasons why renting is inescapable for many of the lower income residents of Chicago. They let their bills slide in favor of rent. So their credit score lowers. So it gets harder for them to get credit or better housing or a loan to purchase a home.

The surest way to verify rent payment has been practiced by landlords for centuries: pay a visit to the prior landlord and ask them. However, as with all things, the advent of the information age combined with fair housing legislation has introduced some complications to this ordinary business of checking references. Find out how to do this the proper way after the jump.

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10 Situations You Should Plan For as a New Chicago Landlord

Cartoonstock.com cartoon - worst case scenarioMost new landlords think through the steps involved in finding a tenant, but they rarely plan on what to do in the event that a major catastrophe or minor disturbance alters the flow of the occupancy. After 7 years in the rental market I can attest that every one of the 10 items on this list has occurred, sometimes on multiple occasions. I’m not going to tell you what your contingency plans should be, although I have served as a sounding board before in helping landlords hash out their worst case scenarios.

In all of these cases make sure that you know the city laws about what you can and cannot do, have contacts handy in your files who can handle the repairs, and know what your timeframe and potential cost will be is to resolve the issue. Make sure you’ve taken all the necessary preventive measures to keep these situations from occurring, without hindering your tenants’ ability to live comfortably in their apartments. Figure out what insurance will cover. Figure out what your liability limits are. Having a plan in place will help you to keep your head about you and your wallet close to intact in these admittedly stressful scenarios.

Photo of fire damage caused by a space heater

Fire damage to a Florida apartment caused by a space heater.

1. Fire that damages a unit. 90,500 apartment fires break out per year in the United States. In 2010 that came to 440 deaths, nearly 4000 injuries and over $1b in property damage. (Source: [1]) 36% of all US fires in 2010 were to some sort of building, as opposed to wildfires, dumpster fires, cars, etc. (Source: [2]) Regardless of if it’s a small grease fire that can be extinguished with a kitchen fire extinguisher or a space heater that arcs on an overloaded outlet, it’s always possible that one of your apartments will be damaged by fire.

Skyline shot of Chicago apartment building on fire

3 alarm fire at 885 W Cornelia, summer 2011

2. Fire that destroys the building. A single apartment on fire is one thing. Losing an entire wing full of apartments, or worse, seeing your property condemned due to fire, is an absolute disaster. This is, oddly enough, one of the few scenarios that new landlords will actually plan for as it’s a pretty extreme “what if.”  Fires are tricky things to contain. A careless neighbor, vagrant or neighboring pizza place could take out your building. Make sure you’ve planned for fires both big and small. (more…)