Info About That Annoying Application Fee

in Find an Apartment on by

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.

27 Responses to “Info About That Annoying Application Fee”

  1. April 16, 2009 at 10:56 am, WeLoveOurResidents said:

    You should mention in the article that things like this aren’t always negotioable, as waiving the fee for one prospect while charging for another would be a violation of Fair Housing. I think it’s irresponsible not to mention Fair Housing in some of the articles that are published here.


    • February 06, 2017 at 10:15 am, samantha said:

      how can you get help if you don't have the application fee and you need help paying for it and you don't have the money for the application fee


  2. April 18, 2009 at 12:01 am, Fair Housing Excuses said:

    It seems like every time there’s a question about negotiating, apartment managers jump in and scream “Fair Housing!!!”

    This is a cover. It’s true that if an apartment negotiates in a biased way– i.e. they always give a better deal to one type of person over another– they could have concerns about Fair Housing.

    But the reality is that all of these “we don’t negotiate because of Fair Housing” policies are self-imposed by apartment management companies themselves because they don’t trust their leasing agents to be unbiased.

    There is no law that says they can’t negotiate… they just choose not to because their conservative attorneys feel it will keep them out of court.

    This is why it’s better to rent a house or in a small apartment building. Small landlords are more concerned about making economically rational decisions than worrying about someone coming after them for Fair Housing.


  3. May 07, 2009 at 2:28 pm, Learn what fair housing means then speak said:

    Listen to yourself first -giving a better deal to one person over another violates fair housing laws! Everyone has to be treated equally! fair – equal same thing! Of course some things can always be negotiated but there are over 20 protected classes in the U.S. how would a leasing agent know if one of the prospect (most likeley the one that was not offerd the better deal-bad luck)is part of a protected class and then finds out someone got a better deal than them they are going to think it is because of thier situation or protected class. Of course everyone wants to stay out of court. Better to be safe than sorry my momma always says.


  4. May 16, 2009 at 11:57 pm, MissGrier said:

    The reason why I can see myself somewhat agree with Fair Housing Excuses is because if you negotiate the application fee it is because you don’t want to pay it. Some people do not have an issue with paying the fee. If you do not ask how is it an unfair practice? The only people whopay the fee are those who agree, the only people who get a discount or waiver are those who request an adjustment. The old saying goes “closed muths don’t get fed”.


  5. May 16, 2009 at 11:58 pm, MissGrier said:

    The reason why I can see myself somewhat agree with Fair Housing Excuses is because if you negotiate the application fee it is because you don’t want to pay it. Some people do not have an issue with paying the fee. If you do not ask how is it an unfair practice? The only people who pay the fee are those who agree, the only people who get a discount or waiver are those who request an adjustment. The old saying goes “closed mouths don’t get fed”.


  6. May 29, 2009 at 7:21 pm, Application fees said:

    Input from someone in the industry:

    It cost apartment communities money to run application fees because they use a credit system which charges them for each application processed. The fees that we get charged are just as “annoying” to us as it is to residents.

    And yes, it is 100% against the Fair Housing Act to waive the application fee for one person that day but not another. All it takes is one prospect to go to the the Fair Housing Board with that complaint and the apartment community can end up losing losing thousands in a lawsuit. At the very least, it is a paperwork nightmare.

    These fees are not there to gouge you. They are there to help keep the property financially viable. In this current economic environment, MANY apartments are losing money every month because occupancies are low across the country. With all the apartments lowering their prices even more and more to compete, they have even less money to pay the mortgage, employees, office supplies, landscaping, etc.

    A note in general about the combative nature of these articles:

    Sure, some leasing agents or landlords can have a jerky attitude, but most of them time, when they do not waive your late fees / require a 30/60 day notice from you even though it’s an inconvenience, it’s not cause they want to be mean, it’s simply their job, and if they won’t do their job, they’ll get fired.

    Ever work in a customer service job where you get yelled at by a customer but you still have to be polite and courteous to them? Then you can probably understand what our job can be like ……. so if we are decent to you, please be decent to us.


    An Apartment Manager Who Always Looks After His Residents


  7. May 29, 2009 at 7:26 pm, Application fees said:

    MissGrier: I understand where you are coming from, and it is “fair” from a common sense point of view, but not from a legal one. With occupancies as low as they are, the owner’s are breathing down are necks yelling, “Why aren’t you getting rentals?!?!?!!” so some of us will take the risk that the Fair Housing Dept. won’t get a complaint to close a sale, but it still isn’t legal.


  8. April 07, 2010 at 9:54 pm, Prospective Renter said:

    Forgive me, but when I see some of the places I’m looking at are charging $100.00 “application fees,” my heart hardly goes out to leasing agents, managers, or landlords. If you’re having to fork over a c-note per tenant-evaluation, you need to file a B.B.B. complaint, yourself.


  9. September 06, 2010 at 10:46 pm, Reed said:

    Application fees are ridiculous. How could any business feel good about making potential customers pay for a CHANCE to pay them more money? If you think about it, that’s what really is happening, you are paying for a chance to get an apartment, and pay rent. Who in the right mind wants to pay a fee for the chance to pay more?

    Car salesmen don’t charge prospective buyers to test drive a car.


  10. June 03, 2011 at 2:48 am, Alex said:


    Unfortunately, that’s not the same thing. A test drive would equate to a tour of the apartment. You aren’t charged for a tour. Car dealerships choose to eat the cost of getting a credit report on you for buying a vehicle, however.

    People complain about fees, but when the entire industry is doing it, or nearly, there really is nothing you can do. You can take your business elsewhere.

    People are so oblivious to how a free market works, that they think they deserve some sort of benefit. No one knows what apartment a is making per month per unit rented. What if they are eating other costs? As a consumer you have one choice, pay, or not to pay. Sure we can complain, but no apartment owes it to you to provide you with housing.

    Let’s stop being so demanding and maybe realize for once that the customer is NOT always right, and we vote with our wallets, so make economic choices and then the markets will change.


  11. August 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm, Michelle said:

    An application fee is definitely not ridiculous. It is an expected cost of moving into a new home. It does cost a lot of money to do the administrative work necessary to process an application: an application check, track down previous landlords to verify rental history, faxing and copying paperwork, etc. Also, an application fee often weeds out those who would not qualify. If there was no application fee, a landlord would get tons of unqualified applicants which would drive administrative costs up, resulting in having to increase rental rates to cover expenses.


  12. August 07, 2012 at 4:20 pm, vanessa said:

    My fiance and I will be living together for the first time after we’re married, we’ve settled on an apt that we both love visually as well as the amenities they have. The application fee is $350 $50 for each of us to be on the lease, $100 for processing, and $150 for… oh shoot I forgot the third thing. Well anyway, I was wondering if anyone had any advice about whether it sounds reasonable or not?


  13. December 05, 2012 at 3:24 pm, Alexa said:

    Michelle, you sound like a fool just like Alex. What qualifications should one need to rent (again) RENT an apartment besides having the money to pay? No paperwork should be done except background checks to weed out criminals. Since when did property management turn into psychology 101 where people without the necessary credentials are trying to intuit any given person’s actions based on past statistics.? So what I moved 3 times in the past 3 years. You don’t know why! So what my credit score is bad. Does that equate to being a thief? That’s what is wrong with this world now – considering the act of NOT making the next’s person’s life more difficult than it already is, a freaking charitable service!


  14. March 15, 2013 at 9:39 pm, Avera said:

    I had no past landlords to “check”…nobody to “track down” and I could have easily obtained my own FREE credit report to show….in lieu of the application fee. Also because I had to put my present roomie’s name down as a potential roommate because minus that I would have been rejected for being too “poor” (why is it legal to demand an income equivalent to three times the inflated rent….as long as the tenant knows they can pay…..who has a right to second-guess that…. especially with a STABLE housing history?????????) I would have been forced to pay ANOTHER $35 application fee, even though if we had a paper saying we were married we would have only had to pay $35. So I say it is greed that motivates this semi-legal (and maybe illegal) scam. In the seventies this never ever fee or background check and fraud from renters was NOT happening more then. Also this management company managed several apt. complexes and we also would have had to pay another $70 to the same company for a second apartment application….regardless of the fact that only one set of credit reports needed to be checked. Oh I also had my own police report handy and could’ve shown that..they are very reasonably priced. But they never tell you anything upfront….probably also due to greed….if customers could bring their own docs and save some money you know who would be feeling cheated. Fortunately the roomie and I both share ownership in a paid-for house so I felt good in putting this greedy slumlord (the place was an overpriced shabby dump anyway and the manager had dim reviews on the internet) in their place. Everyone should have a similarly good back-up plan and then do the same!!!!


  15. March 23, 2013 at 2:02 am, Just to set the record straight said:

    LISTEN-UP APARTMENT MANAGERS! Fair housing laws prevent an apartment manager/employee from making decisions based on a renter’s race, color, familial status, handicap, etc. IT IS NOT A FAIR HOUSING VIOLATION TO MAKE A SPECIAL DEAL WITH A RENTER IF THE REASON FOR MAKING THE SPECIAL DEAL IS NOT BECAUSE OF RACE, COLOR, ETC. For example, apartment managers can charge a low deposit based on a high credit score and a high deposit based on a low score. The reason there is credit worthiness, not race, etc. Likewise, an application fee can be waived as long as the reason for doing so is not because of race, etc.

    IT MAY BE THE POLICY OF AN APARMENT MANAGER TO NOT MAKE A SPECIAL DEAL WITH ANY RENTER. This is because a second renter who does not get the same special deal as the first could try to try to claim that they were denied because of their race, etc. Nevertheless, AS LONG AS THE REASON FOR MAKING OR DENYING THE SPECIAL DEAL IS NOT BECAUSE OF RACE, ETC., FAIR HOUSING LAWS ARE NOT VIOLATED.


  16. September 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm, Fairhousingisirrelevanthere said:

    Eactly!! Fair housing ONLY means that landlords can’t use the tenant’s race, gender, etc against them when determining if they will give them the rental. It’s “illegal” to waive a fee but completely legal and highly frequent to charge one tenant more money based on their pretty much useless credit score and give the next tenant a lower one because theirs is twenty points higher?? News flash: you’re completely contradicting yourselves. If you can’t waive a fee, you can’t charge varying deposits for the same apartments!


  17. January 10, 2014 at 5:15 pm, BSMeNot said:

    It’s greed and little else. I’ve lived in large apartment complexes that charged me all sorts of up-front fees for so-called credit and background checks and once there I only wondered why. I’ve seen people cuffed and stuffed in these places, had people playing bongos and tambourines at three o clock in the morning right next door and having loud, disco type parties only to have the management not care an iota and do absolutely nothing. I lived in one such place only to find out it was ‘mixed income’, and there were people all around me who didn’t work and were up all night being a nuisance. In yet another place, it was the management itself hosting a loud, obnoxious poolside party where my walls were actually vibrating! The online reviews on these ‘ideal, if you lived here you’d be home by now’ places only speak for themselves. I’ve since learned to stick with the smaller, out of the way places that offer little to no amenities but a clean, quiet, safe to place to live at a reasonable rate. Who needs a pool you’re only going to drown in anyway, for lack of sleep. I’ve always worked long hours and been gone on weekends as my job dictates so it’ doesn’t make sense to pay somebody untold moneys for what amounts to a flashy, noisy cell where I’m hardly at, anyway.


  18. February 27, 2014 at 5:13 am, input from a tenant that hates application fees said:

    I avoid application fees at all costs. As much as Managers charge just to “rent” an apartment, you would think they would absorb a meager cost to get a good tenant in their space. It would do justice if potential tenants told some of these stupid managers where they can shove their ridiculous application fees and deposits, because trust me, if they can rip you off in the end, they certainly will; and they are all pretty much a bunch of crooks anyways. The last place I was at charged me a ridiculous 400$ deposit, and then went bankrupt three months later. I never recovered my deposit and, the new company although ran by the same manager claims they do not have to pay the old companies bills. WHAT A BUNCH OF RATS these managers/owners are!!!


  19. September 13, 2016 at 1:48 pm, it's not that hard said:

    in this housing climate of 2016 in LA, they charge hundreds of people the application fee, but how many do you think they actually check? it is safe to say they only need to run a handful of credit checks, as they can rule out most applicants based on a quick glance at key criteria on the written application. and then, of the apps left, how many do you think they actually need to check before they find a good one? id say 10 at the VERY most. especially the companies that grant leases on a first come first served basis who are not looking for the best of the lot, but only for the first one who meets set criteria.

    the fair thing to do would be to have everyone submit a copy of their own credit report with their app that will be verified later on. then, all the owner needs to do is pick out some apps that look good on paper because a lot can be gleaned from a written app. then, starting with the best one, verify references and income. if everything checks out THEN you take the person's payment and run the credit check to verify the check the applicant has already submitted. Something that costs money should be the last step! it is only necessary to run on someone who is, otherwise, already qualified. and if that applicant submitted a false credit report with their app, they should then be subject to legal fines.

    this is the logical process. i'm pretty sure most property managers follow it, except they charge everybody, regardless of whether a credit check was run on them. the rest of the money is then pocketed. that's easy money, ain't it?

    the only reason the law doesn't protect those applicants whose credit is never run is the little guys don't have the resources to lobby for regulations like the credit companies and property owners' associations do.

    it is a total scam that prays upon the poor and desperate and one more case of the advantaged fleecing the poor.


  20. September 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm, Susara Delacruz said:

    I have applied with an apartment complex in New Mexico.. we are getting a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment. One for my husband and myself and the other for my son. They charge us $50.00 each for application fees and told us that it is non-refundable. I have travel to several cities in the US and this is the first time that we are told to pay $50.00 each. My husband and myself are both senior citizens. Can somebody please try to help us on this problem please.


  21. November 26, 2016 at 2:22 pm, Nathan said:

    No one made a law that said running a credit report is mandatory. Take responsibility for your choices. If ownership class wants peace of mind about me, they can call my mom, or hire a detective, or run my credit report, or look me in the eye. That's their choice. It's for their benefit, not ours, that they run the credit report, and if it's for their benefit, then they pay. Period.


  22. November 29, 2016 at 4:30 am, Mixo Lydian said:

    There are countless managers that charge application fees that exceed the maximum allowed by law, and charge additional fees for spouses that are not allowed under the law. In Florida F.S. 718.112 (i) sets the maximum at $100 but about half of managers here illegally charge more.


  23. December 30, 2016 at 10:01 am, Chicklet said:

    How do we know these credit checks are even being done? I've seen rentals on the market for months and am guessing the fees alone could have generated thousands of dollars. This seems like an easy scam. Is it?


  24. January 19, 2017 at 11:11 am, Sylvia Teague b. said:

    YES!!! Low rent house…same amount deposit…then find out you have to pay $150.oo to apply? You're trying to find a place decent enough to rent…and you can afford…then you get socked with fee that you can't afford…i call that BS.


  25. February 11, 2017 at 7:13 pm, Peter said:

    I'm looking at an apartment in Easthampton, MA where the renter is asking for a fee of 60% of 1 month's rent, which apparently shows my commitment to taking this rental. Does this sound like a scam? It's non refundable, unless I, the person applying to rent, am denied. This fee is on top of a security deposit and the first month's rent.


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