Research important to finding apartment

By Michael Logli

Organizations like the University’s Tenant Union can make searching for an apartment in Urbana or Champaign a lot easier by helping students look at leases and recommending landlords.

But for students that are graduating and moving beyond Champaign-Urbana, it is likely that places like the Tenant Union will not exist, making the hunt for a place to live difficult, said Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union.

When searching for an apartment in a new place, Patt recommends looking through the classified section of the area’s newspaper. It is the most comprehensive collection of advertisements available, and it is much more reliable than Web sites that claim to perform the same function, Patt said.

“Besides the classifieds, there’s not one source in the country that I could rely on as a legitimate source,” she said. “It’s something that students don’t always utilize.”

The Tenant Union lists landlord complaints on their Web site and works with students to try to eliminate the potential for scams. In a city like Chicago, these scams can exist everywhere, said Aaron Krolik, a legal attorney that specializes in landlord-tenant law.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of illegal leases out there,” Krolik said.

However, looking for an apartment in Chicago can be especially challenging because of Chicago’s unique landlord-tenant laws, Krolik said.

“No other state has laws as unique as Chicago’s,” he said. “You need to know the law.”

These laws refer to the security deposit tenants must place with landlords upon signing a lease. In Chicago, a landlord must fulfill different requirements, such as writing a receipt for the deposit and creating a separate bank account for the deposit. If these requirements are not fulfilled, the tenant can receive up to twice the amount of the security deposit returned, plus interest, Krolik said.

These laws are not covered in the leases, and because of this, many landlords can get away with the tenant’s money. Krolik said reading a lease is often not enough.

“All of those infractions, however tiny, can get two times the security deposit back,” he said.

Krolik has also come across illegal leases, which are not protected by any laws. In order to avoid these leases, Krolik recommended that apartment hunters use a legitimate apartment-searching organization, like Chicago Apartment Finder, to double-check any complaint records.

“It’s a bigger city and there’s all types of landlords,” Krolik said. “But reading the lease alone is not enough.”

No matter where the search for a new home begins, Patt said that it is important to engage in a lot of research and to be careful.

“Try to talk to previous tenants if possible, but it’s harder,” Patt said.