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Startup aims to revolutionize rental process

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November 07, 2012|By Matt Lindner @mattlindner | For RedEye

Like many Chicagoans, Ryan Coon is sick of not being able to pay his rent online.

"Everything else I pay electronically," the 28-year-old Old Town resident said. "Rent is the only reason I have a checkbook."

So sick, in fact, he decided to quit his cushy, six-figure job in the banking industry to do something about it.

Coon, along with fellow University of Illinois graduate Laurence Jankelow, 28, of Old Town, founded Rentalutions, a startup designed at streamlining the apartment rental process.

"It was really driven out of personal frustration," Coon said. "I've never been able to pay rent online."

If all goes according to plan, renters throughout Chicago will soon be able to do just that without having to think about it. Landlords, on the other hand, will have a one-stop shop for all facets of the rental cycle.

"Why stop at one thing when you can really improve the entire process," Jankelow said.

While a number of other sites facilitate paying rent online, Coon and Jankelow said what separates Rentalutions from the competition is the fact that landlords and tenants can take care of everything from the initial background check to the returning of the security deposit electronically.

"It's an online property management platform helping small landlords and property managers manage their properties through the rental cycle," Coon said.

Landlords pay $13.99 per month plus an additional $1 per unit. Tenants pay $45 for a background check plus $1 on each transaction through the system such as rent. Partnerships with TransUnion (credit checks) and Chicago-based MB Financial (payments) allow Rentalutions to keep everything under one digital roof.

"It helps the tenant pay rent online, track their documents and everything, really make the process as trustworthy and as transparent as possible," Coon said.

The service is geared specifically at landlords like 32-year-old Jeremy Milway of Lincoln Park. Milway owns a pair of properties in the city and works a full-time job, meaning he doesn't have the kind of time that professional property managers have to pay attention to the minutiae of the rental process.


"The fact I can check it all online at work, real-time rather than a paper-based situation or random e-mails makes management of the overall process so much easier," Milway said.

"Renting is difficult and a time-consuming process, and Rentalutions streamlines it so I don't have to spend as much time worrying about the property or keeping things in order," added 27-year-old Old Town resident Brian Crump, who, like Milway, has been using the service for several months.

But it's not just about the tenant-landlord relationship.

Jankelow said a lot of landlords aren't aware of the numerous ordinances enforced by the city of Chicago governing the tenant-landlord relationship, such as Municipal Codes Ch. 5-12-080 and 5-12-081, which state that landlords must pay interest on a tenant's security deposit and keep those deposits in a federally insured bank account.

"Chicago's got some pretty strict ordinances that are somewhat tenant-friendly," Jankelow  said. "A lot of (landlords) would, I think, follow those ordinances if they understood them or were aware of them and could piece it all together. We really help with that. When we make the process easier for them, they're more likely to follow those rules."

To make things easier, Coon and Jankelow place as much of an emphasis on education as they do the financial aspect of the relationship.

"These guys actively alert you to specifics while also passively make sure you are doing what you need to be doing," Crump said. "When they have an alert saying you need to return a security deposit in 15 days, they don't specifically say that's what the ordinance requires, but it does alert you that you have an obligation."

Their vision is still a long way from becoming a citywide reality, though. Right now, the pair only have a handful of landlords signed up. They're also still waiting on venture capital funding to help get the project off the ground.

"We've received cursory interest predicated on getting customers," Coon said. "The capital-raising environment here in Chicago is completely different than on the West Coast. On the West Coast, it's easier to raise money on just an idea and that would never fly here in Chicago."

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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