More than a few landlords charge an application fee for prospective tenants. If you’re looking at more than one apartment, though, those application fees can add up quickly. But you don’t have to take those fees at face value.
An apartment manager uses application fees to cover the cost of making sure that a prospective tenant won’t cause trouble — it goes to pay for a credit check and any other tenant screening the landlord deems necessary.
But application fees aren’t supposed to actually make a landlord any money, and most states have limits on how much you can be charged when you fill out a rental application. In most cases, the typical application fee is between $25 and $35 dollars, and you should be able to get a list of exactly what a landlord is planning to check out when you pay the fee.
It’s worth noting that you don’t have to pay application fees: Ruth Thaler-Carter has lived in apartments all over the U.S. and has never paid a single application fee. Ruth says, “It’s not so much that I’ve refused to pay an application fee — although I would if it arose — as that I’ve never tried to rent from anywhere that charged one. If I see anything in an ad that suggests there would be an application fee, I just don’t apply for that apartment.” She’s still managed to find apartments that she’s liked and been comfortable living in.
In order to avoid application fees entirely, however, you may find yourself in the position of liking a particular apartment that you’ll need to pay an application fee just to start the rental process. However, most apartment managers will at least talk to you about options relating to that application fee.
For instance, some landlords are willing to waive the fee if you submit a copy of your credit report along with your rental application. Others will negotiate deducting the fee from your first month’s rent or your deposit. Not all landlords are willing to be flexible about application fees, but enough are to make asking worth your while.
If you feel that a property manager is misusing application fees — such as taking your money without actually running a credit report — you have a number of options, including reporting the situation to the Better Business Bureau and the local housing authority.