Before you enter into a lease, especially a lease with an individual landlord (as opposed to a well known leasing company), you should take a few easy steps to make sure you know that you are leasing from the person or entity authorized to rent the apartment or home. I’ve recently represented a few tenants who rented properties from “landlords" who, it turned out, had no legal right to rent the property. In two cases, the “landlord" had already lost the property in foreclosure. In those cases, the “landlord" took a security deposit and first month’s rent from my clients and then never gave possession of the apartment to my clients.

If you live in Cook County, here is how to find out the ownership status of the property that you are considering renting:

Step 1: Find the PIN of the property

Go to the Cook County Assessor’s website www.cookcountyassessor.com

Near the top of the page, there is a drop down menu for “Search" – click that

Click on “Property Search"

Click on the bar “Search by Address"

Enter the street address of the building

Click on “Search by Address"

If no result is found, try searching by address range (If your address is 1234 XYZ Street, and that address is coming up “not found" on the Assessor’s website, try searching for addresses between 1200 XYZ and 1300 XYZ) . If you still can’t find your property address (and the property is located in Chicago), go to the City of Chicago’s Building Code Violations website:

http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/provdrs/inspect/svcs/building_violationsonline.html and search by the property address. At the top of the Results page, it may list other addresses by which the property is known. Try entering those addresses in the “Search by Address" area at the Cook County Assessor’s website.

If you still can’t find the PIN for the property, call the Assessor’s Office at (312) 443-7550.

Once you have the PIN, the next step is to find out who is the legal owner of the property and whether there is a foreclosure pending.

Step 2: Determine the legal owner/find out if the property is in foreclosure

Go to the Cook County Recorder of Deed’s website www.ccrd.info

Near the top, click on “Search Our Documents"

Enter the PIN in the box at the top of the page and click “Search"

Look in the list of documents for the most recent document that has the word “deed" in the title. Look at who the Grantee is. That is the legal owner of the property. If that person is a completely different person that the person or entity who is offering to rent the property to you, you may want to ask additional questions of the landlord to determine that the person offering to rent the apartment or home to you actually has the legal authority to do so.

Next, look in the list of documents for a “Lis Pendens" notice (this is the document that notifies parties that a foreclosure lawsuit has been filed). If there is one, click on the document number for that document. That will allow you to see the Circuit Court of Cook County Case Number for the foreclosure lawsuit. You may need to click on “View Image" to see the Case Number. It should be something similar to 12 CH 12345 or 2012 CH 99999. (The first set of numbers 11, 12, 2011, 2012, etc. refer to the year in which the foreclosure lawsuit was filed. CH stands for Chancery – the division of the Circuit Court of Cook County which hears foreclosure lawsuits.)

If a foreclosure has already been filed against the property, you may want to think twice about renting the property. If you want to find out the status of the foreclosure lawsuit is, you can look up the status of the foreclosure case at the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s website - www.ccokcountyclerkofcourt.org. On the left side, look for Online Case Info – Click on Full Electronic Docket. Search for the case information, by entering the case number that you found on the Recorder of Deed’s website and clicking on “Search Now."