Chicago Apartment Hunting: Tips and Tricks to be Successful

Renting an apartment in the city can be intimidating—especially if you’re on a tight deadline. Here are some insights into some of the aspects of apartment hunting in Chicago that you may not find elsewhere in the country.

Using an agent is usually free

Chicago is what’s called a ‘tenant-paid’ rental market. This means that the landlord pays the agent their commission—in this case, to bring you (the tenant) to their building. In which case, you get the benefit of having an agent take care of your apartment hunt and negotiation, completely free of charge. There may be exceptions to this—but they’re the exception and not the rule. While you can certainly go it alone and find a place on by yourself, agents often have relationships with landlords, and are very well informed about the latest changes in inventory and pricing—not to mention, many of them are native Chicagoans themselves, giving you the inside scoop about your neighborhood.

The market moves quickly

Chicago is a big rental market—which means you have to consider when you should start looking at apartment listings. If you’re ready to start your lease right away, you can probably start looking at listings and scheduling apartment visits. If don’t think you want to start your lease and pay rent for a month or two, it may not make sense to start looking at listings. It’s common to see an apartment come on the market on, for example, a Monday, and see that it’s gone by Wednesday.

This also means that if you find something you like—apply quickly. You’ll likely not be the only one whose interested. Be prepared to furnish everything you need for your application on the spot.

Renter beware

Unless you’re using an agent (and we recommend that you do!) who can vet properties and listings for you, it’s possible that you could be getting yourself into a scam. Especially on sites that are more community-driven such as Craigslist, you may find it hard to sift through legitimate listings or false advertisements, meant to bait-and-hook you; this technique tempts you with an amazing listing (usually too good to be true) and when you call and ask about the property, it’s magically gone. Even worse, they may take you to a property and say it’s theirs to rent. After you hand over the security deposit or application fee—they disappear.

The best way to avoid these situations? Use an agent.

You may need a co-signer

Also called a ‘guarantor’, a co-signer is someone who is agreeing to be financially reliable for your apartment, should you fail to pay rent. This is usually required if you have credit issues (such as a low credit rating or a short credit history), don’t make enough money to satisfy the landlord, or are not a US citizen. There are no laws that say when a landlord can require a co-signer or not, so it is completely at their discretion.

If the landlord requires you to have a co-signer, they’ll likely need to follow the same process you did when you applied for the apartment. They will also need to furnish documents that prove their income and financial capability to pay rent if you’re unable to.

If you don’t have a family member or friend who can act as your co-signer, you may want to see if the landlord will accept institutional guarantors—essentially banks that are willing to act as your guarantor either for a one time or monthly fee.

Get renter’s insurance

Renter’s insurance is often required by the landlord when you rent the apartment. This helps to protect you against theft and a myriad of other liabilities. Read over your lease agreement carefully to see what renter’s insurance you’re required to have. Usually, your agent will be able to recommend some affordable options.

Subletting

If you’re subletting a room in an apartment for a temporary amount of time, make sure that the lease holder (the person you’re subletting from) shows written permission from their landlord that allows them to sublet. If they don’t have permission, the landlord may hold the right to evict you from the apartment!