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Renters beware: Application fees can now cost hundreds of dollars

Apartment application fees used to cost $50, if that. But now, some complexes charge hundreds of dollars for a background check.
Renters beware: Application fees can now cost hundreds of dollars
Posted at 4:56 AM, May 03, 2023

If you're apartment hunting these days, you'll likely pay apartment application fees. While those fees used to be $20 to $50, some renters are now being asked to pay hundreds of dollars without guaranteeing they will get the apartment. 

McKenzie and Erick Willett have finally found a new apartment.

But they are bitter after losing nearly $400 in application fees at the complex they really wanted.

"It said it would be an $80 per adult application fee, plus $220, for a total of $380," Erick Willett said.,

$380 sounded steep. But desperate and with a new baby, the Willetts paid it, only to learn "our application was denied due to something being in our credit history."

Even worse news: The complex was keeping the $380.

"I was under the impression it was going to be refundable," Erick Willet said.

SEE MORE: How 'mega landlords' are affecting the real estate market

What can you do?

Clare Trapasso with Realtor.com says application fees are the new norm for renters, and even condo buyers, to help landlords determine your eligibility.

"Often, that's for a credit check or for some of the work they're doing in the back office to get that apartment ready," she said.

Whether you get that money back varies by location. A handful of states have fee regulations or caps in place. But others have no limitations at all. 

Trapasso says once you pay a fee, ask if any of it is refundable.

"It never hurts to ask to get a refund," she said, "especially if you don't get the place."

But she says it's very unlikely you'll see that money again.

Some red flags to avoid when looking for a new place:

- Landlords charging a fee just to view an apartment.

- Being charged a fee if there are no units currently available. So ask in advance.

We visited the complex that denied the Willetts, Seasons on Chelsea, where a manager pointed us to their website.

There it says, "All application fees are not refundable for any reason." McKenzie Willett says it is unfair.

"Having a new baby, and all the expenses, this is a lot of money to us," she said.


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