Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chicago Condo Tenants Posing as Landlords Scam

A couple tenants have called in with the following situation:

They saw a Chicago condo unit for rent advertised on Craigslist or another place. They gave a security deposit or rent to someone posing as the owner of a condo unit, pursuant to a "lease." Turns out the "landlord" was themselves renting the condo unit as a tenant, from the real owner. In one case the tenant "landlord" had gotten three or more security deposits for "leases" he entered into with three different people to start in a month.
It's not hard for a condo renter to pose as the owner of the unit, because they'll have the keys and be able to show the unit to tenants. A condo renter can print a generic apartment lease off of the internet as easily as most real condo landlords do. Frighteningly, there's really nothing that makes this fraud hard to accomplish.

Once the tenant con artist was gone, with the money, the real landlord usually was not wiling to accept responsibility for their tenant's actions. Even if the real landlord provides contact information or the real identity of the imposter landlord, that imposter is not likely to still have the tenant's money. This type of individual has spent it already, and is likely judgment-proof.

Is the real landlord liable to the tenant for anything? As an owner of the unit, the real condo owner would be defined as a "landlord" under section 5-12-030(b) of the Chicago Residential Landlord & Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). Does this mean the real landlord could be liable to the duped tenant for two times their whole security deposit if it was commingled, or taken without issuance of a proper reciept, or otherwise handled in violation of RLTO § 5-12-080? Is the landlord at least liable for the deposit itself? It's unknown.

People need to protect themselves against this. First of all, just because it is on Craigslist doesn't mean it checks out. Craigslist is the first one to tell you that. It's a great place to start. The prospective tenant is urged to look up the property AND the person claiming to be its owner on the Cook County Recorder of Deeds website. To search by property you will need the PIN of the property. For a condo, the best way to do this is to plug in the street address to the Cook County Assessor's website, then find your unit number amongst the results, and there you will see your PIN. Then plug that PIN into the Recorder of Deeds PIN search and see who owns it. Second of all, make sure the lease you are presented with has the alleged landlord's home address on it. Make sure it's not just a PO Box, and make sure they really own THAT address (using the Deeds and Assessor sites, if the address is in Cook County). Finally, maybe it's worth asking to see their driver's license.

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