Tenant Tip: Rental applications & tenant screening fees

In June 2012, a new law took effect providing additional regulations around the tenant screening process. Our post from 5/30/12, Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!, describes in detail the new requirements that landlords provide written notice of what information will be accessed in a screening, what information may be used to deny housing, and notification of why a tenant was denied. However, there’s still more advocacy work to be done to improve tenant screening practices.

Rental Application imageHousing barriers
can mean repeated
screening fees
Landlords frequently deny people housing based on marks on their rental history – such as prior evictions, poor credit, criminal background, etc. – forcing tenants to apply elsewhere. Tenants with a history of housing barriers must often apply to multiple places in hopes of finding an affordable unit they will be accepted into. This screening process can become very costly, because every time a tenant applies for a new rental, they must pay a screening fee ($35 to $75+) so that each different landlord can run a background check.

Be wary of portable screening reports
Some screening companies offer the option to purchase a portable report, which allows tenants to pay one fee and take the report to several landlords or have online access to it. In theory, this method prevents tenants from having to pay fees to each landlord that conducts a check on them.

Unfortunately, landlords are NOT required by law to accept reports provided by tenants. Many landlords choose to have their own screenings conducted and require that tenants pay a separate screening fee, even in cases where the same exact screening company is used by both landlord and tenant.

Because of this, paying for a portable report from a screening company can be risky and costly – and can actually cause tenants to spend more on screening fees. While tenant advocates are working to address the issue, to date there are no laws mitigating rental application screening costs.

Your tenant screening rights
Prior to paying for screening, it is important for tenants to remember that landlords must present a list of criteria they will use to determine tenancy eligibility. Some landlords are able to discuss their criteria with tenants in detail, and this can guide a tenant’s decision whether or not to continue with an application process and pay the screening fee. Having a conversation with a prospective landlord prior screening, proactively asking questions, and reviewing criteria for denying housing can sometimes prevent costly screening fees. 

Lastly, everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies; you can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com. Bring your credit report to prospective landlords and ask if they will accept it. While some landlords may choose to conduct additional screening anyway, presenting your credit report may be another way to avoid screening fees. If a landlord refuses to accept the credit report, then you can choose whether or not to continue with the process and pay the screening fee.

For additional information on screening fees and the rental housing application process, visit Tenant Services – Housing Search on Solid Ground’s website.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

2 Responses

  1. If I get charged for a ‘screening fee’ can I ask for a copy of the report and the paid invoice? Is it legal to be charged for a service that is never used (meaning managers are pocketing this fee)? Can they charge more for the service than I am charged?

  2. I am having problems with getting my deposit back which was over $1,200.00 and they only want to give me back $339.00. I was supposed to give them a month’s rent and that was to be returned to me if I moved out on the exact date of my year’s lease, which I did. Now they’re being very smug and said they sent me a check on the 6th already, but I’ve been waiting 3 weeks and I called them to ask where my check was. They told me to call the post office.can’t they void the ck and do a new one, they told me they wouldn’t cut me another check. Pls help as I am going under thanks. Elsie M. Long

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