Specific: Good Chicago apartment. General: Avoiding dumps when working kinda blind?
September 6, 2005 12:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good Chicago apartment and landlord ... and also, thoughts on how to practically avoid stinkers when you can't talk to and/or don't know the tenants.

To break down the question to both a specific-to-Chicago aspect, and a wider generality for everybody ...

Specifically for Chicagoans, I'm in the search for a Chicago studio or one-bedroom in the $550-800 range, in a well-developed area preferably on the North Side (but I'm open to elsewhere). I'm able to move out of my apartment at the end of October or the end of November (but preferably October). The last time I looked, my credit rating was in good shape and I have a solid eight-year history at my old building. So, if you're a Chicagoan who is happy living in a building with good, solid infrastructure and believes their landlord/management company to be responsible, responsive, and professional, I would very much appreciate your recommendation!

In a more general sense, for anybody, I am wondering how one can be alerted to bad conditions in a potential apartment, or bad behavior in a potential landlord, without personally knowing the tenants. The story that prompts this question ...

When my supervisor learned of my search, he suggested I inquire with a colleague's client, a certain Chicago apartment management company. Their website looked quite professional, and as I skimmed through their availability, I began to think of this entity as a concrete possibility.

As I read through it, though, I recognized my best friend's address as one of the properties. When I inquired with him about his experience as a tenant, he shared with me experiences of significant problems with the building's pipes and wiring, and also how both the response quality and response time for needed repairs was pretty poor.

However, the physical appearance of the apartment is nice and new — if I hadn't known someone living there, I probably would have thought very well of this building and would have rated it highly on an initial survey. (Believe it or not, I'm still halfway considering this particular company for other reasons, but they're going to be very low on my list, unless I find a lot of other stinkers out there.)

How can someone avoid similar pitfalls? Where can people, essentially, find "reviews" of landlords — or at least get fair warning to such situations? When you're being shown about, you're usually in the presence of the landlord or their representatives, and tenants probably aren't going to give you the unvarnished truth in the landlords' presence. Also, tenants might not be objective, either, and I imagine with every landlord you could find someone willing to diss them.

I've also considered using an apartment finding service, but since they are free to the tenant, they must be paid by the landlord. That doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be dishonest, but it does mean they are motivated to "make the sale," so to speak. Still, I used an excellent job placement service to find my current position, and although she was of no cost to me, she was excellent in taking to account my preferences and desires in a potential employer — so I imagine I might be able to find a similar apartment finding service who wants its clients to be reputable ones.

Any thoughts about the above requests would be quite sincerely appreciated. I imagine there have been other AskMeFi threads about apartment-hunting and even Chicago apartment-hunting, but I'm not sure how specific to this query they've been; if I've been entirely duplicative, please feel free to show me the light.
posted by WCityMike to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've used (and even posted to) apartmentratings.com. It's not as complete as one might hope, but I was still surprised by how much feedback there was for my area.
posted by trevyn at 12:58 PM on September 6, 2005

so, you live in Chicago and are thinking of moving to another apartment in Chicago.

How about asking the tenants of the place that you are considering renting? would that be appropriate? I would do this if I were to look for a place in Vancouver (where I live)
posted by seawallrunner at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2005

Craiglist. Specifically the housing discussion forums. Hell, just copy and paste what you wrote here.
posted by phearlez at 1:33 PM on September 6, 2005

Response by poster: Seawallrunner, I actually addressed that in the question:

When you're being shown about, you're usually in the presence of the landlord or their representatives, and tenants probably aren't going to give you the unvarnished truth in the landlords' presence. Also, tenants might not be objective, either, and I imagine with every landlord you could find someone willing to diss them.

The only way I could even think of getting unvarnished opinions from tenants would be arranging a second visit to an apartment building, without the landlord, and hitting the apartment buzzers and asking anyone who answered for their opinions, but that assumes I could find someone who'd be both home and who'd be willing to speak with a total stranger ... a very dubious proposition. Not to mention that if I ended up choosing the place, I would've made an odd first impression on my neighbors ...
posted by WCityMike at 1:34 PM on September 6, 2005

Response by poster: Trevyn, Phearlz, both are great suggestions of forums I didn't know about that will hopefully give me some solid leads. Thank you.

But anyone else, don't let me being happy about those particular responses prevent you from responding ... I can use all the leads I can get! And if you're a Chicagoan happy with your landlord, definitely let me know ...

A big market, and I'm a little fish who's trying to get a beeline on the good worms ...
posted by WCityMike at 1:37 PM on September 6, 2005

Chicago specific: I've have mixed experiences with Realty and Mortgate. They manage a lot of studios on the northside in your price range. I lived in one of their 1 br for a year, no issues. My girlfriend lived in one of their studios for two years, no problems while she was there. Ended badly - they ended up moving all her stuff to the middle of the room and basically gutting the place two or three days before the lease was up. Not to mention that they left the door unlocked while they did that and charged her some off the security deposit for a hole in the carpet that they were going to throw out anyway.

More than enough to piss us off, but you can also take away from the story that they gutted a studio that was in average condition for a new tenant. Your mileage will vary.

(Studio was at 420 W Melrose, where there are currently vacancies. Not a bad building, at least a couple years ago.)
posted by true at 2:12 PM on September 6, 2005

I lived in a studio managed by Surf Development for four years and never had a problem with them - they have stuff on the north side in your price range. No website that I know of, but their management can be reached at 773-472-2040. My building had large studios and one bedrooms, all under $800.

As for your other questions...I've never found a good answer. I just look at a lot of places until I find something I'm comfortable with.
posted by bibbit at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2005

Wow, Surf Development! That takes me back. They were my worst landlords ever!

Maybe times have changed. My experience was '96-98. Within one month of moving in, the back porch collapsed and several people were seriously injured. Rescue workers had to take over our apartment to bring out the injured and it got trashed in the process. Blood, glass and wood was everywhere. No one from Surf would come over and repair the damage or clean up. A few weeks after that experience, the bathroom ceiling started leaking buckets of water and they wouldn't come out to fix it. The water spread until it was raining inside my closet, short circuiting the electrical in that room. (Yes, and I went on to live there through another lease. I was poor and dumb.)

The last few months I lived in that apartment there was a massive rodent infestation throughout the entire building--mice everywhere. I begged and pleaded but it never got any better. After I moved out, they kept almost the entire security deposit. When my roommate and I pushed for documentation from them, they drew up a letter, dated it months earlier so they wouldn't be in violation of the ordinance and padded it out with a list of bogus charges.

My best landlord experience was with Lake Shore Properties. They are based in Evanston but most of their properties are in the city. Phil is the manager there and does everything by the book, a very honest guy. I rented a one-bedroom from him for about four years, paying $725 by the time I moved out in 2002. (This was at Montrose and Clark.)

I also had good luck renting the top floor of a two-flat in an owner-occupied building. This might not be an option for you, though, since most two-flats have large apartments that rent for more than your budget allows.

Incidentally, two management companies I have heard bad things about are Parliament and Acorn.
posted by Sully6 at 3:08 PM on September 6, 2005

Effing hell, that sounds like a horrific landlord experience.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:17 PM on September 6, 2005

I rented from S & M Management for two years, in two different buildings. Both were your typical Chicago north-side small apartment. OK condition, a little dirty, etc. Service was good, and they returned my entire security deposit. It wasn't glamorous, but they didn't cheat me, either. Call (773) 281-5596, ask for Scott or Millie.
posted by MrZero at 3:49 PM on September 6, 2005

South side! I will highly reccommend my old apartment building with the best management company ever. They will fix things the next day. Accross the street from Powell's, surrounded by 5+ bookstores including the Seminary Coop (which some consider the best bookstore in the country), parks and trees everywhere, the Point, Metra and bus stop less than a block away, and University resources, I have never lived anywhere as great.

I used the lakefront path all the time, swam at the point, walked to the park, loved it. Once I was on the path going south and I encountered a group of riders on 50+ horses making their way through the emerald necklace, or the parks that lace their way throughout the south side. Worth the 20 minute commute to downtown. If I moved back to Chicago I wouldn't live anywhere else.

Oh yea, and did I mention that every apartment in that building has clawfoot freaking bathtubs?
posted by scazza at 4:39 PM on September 6, 2005

My sister had a pretty good experience with Wirtz Realty. They own a bunch of buildings, and a few of them are studios only, I think.

Her building was on the corner of Wellington and Sheridan in Lakeview and she was really happy w/ it. They were very flexible w/ her having to move out a couple months early. The building she was in was very well maintained. I *think* she paid about $650 for a good-size studio. Can't speak for their other buildings though.
posted by awegz at 5:31 PM on September 6, 2005

I had a fabulous experience with the Apartment People. I came to town armed with lots of questions and a cynical outlook, and the net result is that we have a wonderful apartment in a great part of town. We actually rent from an individual unit owner of a condo building. We were able to negotiate the rent down significantly (and to give you an idea, our range was similar to yours except we were looking at 1+ bedrooms near the red line, and our rent was dropped nearly $100/month), and we just re-signed our lease because we loved them so much.

I hear mixed reviews of Apartment People - about them being hard sells, about them only showing certain types of places - if you were to go with any apartment hunting agency, I'd advise you to be shrewd and do lots of your own research in advance - using craigslist (which we also used) and the Reader. Wander around the neighborhood you want to live in and see if there are any ads in windows. After all, you're the only one who is 100% in your own best interest.

Best of luck!!
posted by cajo at 5:59 PM on September 6, 2005

I lived in a Realty & Mortgage property at 500 W. Fullerton back in '99. It was run well by a live-in super, and the management was generally on top of things. Good price for a great neighborhood, though I was absolutely baking without AC.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:14 PM on September 6, 2005

Planned Property Management has roaches in nearly all of their units. I lived in one building (450 W. Melrose) that was flat-out infested. Like Creepshow infested. But this was about 10 years ago, so maybe they cleaned up their act ...
posted by macadamiaranch at 7:23 PM on September 6, 2005

I've been living in a Charles E Smith building on the super-near north side for about three years now, and I've been happy. Their site.
posted by MeetMegan at 10:20 AM on September 7, 2005

Response by poster: My thanks to everyone who contributed advice on this thread. I now know of a few companies to check out, a few companies to stay away from, and a few websites to check out for further leads — the response here has just been dynamite. I very much appreciate all the advice.

MeetMegan, I appreciate your recommendation, but someone I know is living there, and I took a brochure and visited their website last week. My God, are they expensive! And the application, move-in fee, and non-refundable pet deposit (a non-refundable deposit is just another name for a fee, isn't it?) in aggregate adds over $500+ to the price!
posted by WCityMike at 6:57 AM on September 8, 2005

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