The terms are vague and inconclusive, the policies are wildly varying and maddening, the whole process makes you just want to move back in with your parents. I’m talking of course about apartment rental credit check fees. Just what are these fees? How are they determined? Who decides what’s an acceptable level of credit worthiness/debt to income/credit score? Some of us are coming at this discussion from a different place but in the end we’re all the same.
An overwhelming majority of us will, at one point or another in our lives, rent a place. If we do this through an agent or the corporate rental machine, we will inevitably have to go through with the arcane credit check and the subsequent credit check fee. The problems with this fee, in particular in a place like New York City, is that there are no standards. Even private owners and owner/landlords have gotten into the fray.
A building can (and will) charge whatever they want for a credit score fee. Some have even accused that building owners take in thousands of dollars in extra income every month in extra fees and will keep an apartment empty for nearly as long just so they can keep taking in applications and keep the apartment ‘vacant.’
In a way it’s the perfect racket if you think about it. Say a landlord has a $1000/mo apartment in an otherwise full building but in this apartment they have had tenants complain ad nausea or in some circumstances leave because of something pesky and fixable like a rattling steam pipe. What a landlord could do is advertise the apartment for way below what the place should be going for, $700, get a flood of ‘applications,’ tell the tenants that the ‘credit check fee’ is $100, and just keep pocketing the money, telling the applicants that they didn’t score well enough, made too much money, or that the apartment was otherwise rented.
That’s it. 10 applications a week is $1000. You can do the math from there but the bottom line is why bother with renting the unit when you can just keep collecting these ‘off the books’ application fees? Why fix the pipe (and have to claim the rental income) when you could just keep showing the place and never rent it? Of course most landlords are honorable and don’t do that. Still, the rental application process and application fee are a point of contention for this particular renter.
While out on my most recent search I have been told that the fees (in not the same building but in comparably priced apartments in the same neighborhood) were “$20, $50 per couple, $65 per individual, and $165,” for my wife and I. I actually had another landlord contradict what her own application said. The application said “$100 per applicant.” However my wife’s proven income (she had a letter of employment) more than covered the 40x rent formula typically used in New York City, so I asked if there was some leeway with that fee; I didn’t even need to have my name on the lease! She then told me that the application fee was “$75 for both.”
This sort of rubbed me the wrong way and got me thinking about the whole apartment renter’s fee exercise. How does $100 each applicant become $75 for both? When I called her on it (the apartment was taking over the lease of this guy who was bailing for conflicted reasons) she stood firm. “My fee is my fee.” A number of other things about this apartment rang hollow so I accepted her position and demurred, but the whole program has just got me spinning my wheels.
What the heck do renters need to do to get a fair shake from these landlords and building owners?