Don’t Go Broke From Application Fees

July 2nd, 2009 by

When considering multiple apartments, the application fee for each apartment can quickly add up. It’s enough to make renters looking to save money just sign the lease on the first somewhat livable apartment they find. However, there are a few ways you can keep yourself from going broke from application fees, and still get the apartment most suited to your needs.

Understanding Application Fees

Although not all landlords charge application fees, that does not mean that any landlord who does charge you a fee is trying to cheat you out of your hard earned money. A few important points about the application fee include:

  • There’s a limit – There is likely a limit on the amount a landlord can charge you for processing a rental application, which differs depending on the state in which you live. The average application fee is between $25 and $35.
  • The fee is not for the landlord’s profit – The landlord uses the fee to defray the cost of running a background check (criminal, employment and credit) on you. The fee may not even cover the entire cost of the check.
  • Although usually nonrefundable, you can be entitled to a refund. Should the landlord give the apartment to another tenant before he or she has a chance to conduct a background check on you, you are likely entitled to a refund of your fee. You should inquire about the refund if this situation arises.

Once you understand the reason for the application fee, as well as your rights as a potential tenant, you can take steps to prevent yourself from going broke from such fees.

Step 1 – Do Your Research Thoroughly

Although $25 to $35 may not seem like much, it can add up quickly when you’re looking to apply to multiple apartments. If you thoroughly research the apartment’s amenities, rental costs (including one-time and monthly fees), and location, before you even set foot on the property, you will have a clearer idea of which apartments are suited for you. Decide on the best choices and ask for apartment showings to get a firsthand look.

Step 2 – Look for Move-In Specials and Deals

Landlords looking for a large number of tenants may hold “move-in specials,” offering to wave fees for a short period of time. Other landlords are willing to forgo the fee year-round and absorb the costs of running a background check, in order to attract more applicants. Look for listings that advertise no fees at application.

Step 3 – Do the Work for Them

Some landlords who charge application fees may be willing to reduce or eliminate the fee if you do some of the work for them. Provide them with an updated version of your credit report and proof of your employment, and ask them if they would be willing to reduce or eliminate the fee.

Step 4 – Try Negotiating

Although you are unlikely to get a refund of your application fee once the landlord has performed a background check on you, you can ask if the landlord would be willing to deduct the cost of the fee from your security deposit or your first month’s rent (should you sign the lease). It doesn’t hurt to ask.

You can avoid going into debt over application fees by doing your research and opening a dialog with your potential landlord. Be prepared, be firm, and be flexible!

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