Renters pay big fees every time they apply for apartments. California could change that
When would-be renters go apartment hunting in California, they often end up paying over and over again each time they apply for a unit.
The application fees can be burdensome, discouraging some renters from conducting a wide search and adding to the challenge of finding an affordable home.
Anna Maciaszek, who moved from Florida to Los Angeles in January, knows this all too well. She reached out to more than 50 leasing agents and landlords about apartments but didn’t hear back from most. She eventually found a place to rent in Santa Monica with a flexible lease, after declining to apply to two other apartments, in part because of the fees involved.
“They’re just price gouging to an astronomical level, just because they can,” said Maciaszek, 35. “I went to a couple of places and looked — it was an absolute dump for what the landlord was charging.”
Assembly Bill 2559, which the California Senate approved Monday, seeks to relieve renters of some of the costs for credit and background checks, as other states have done. It would allow renters to purchase reusable credit reports instead of paying for new ones each time they apply for an apartment.
To the disappointment of some renters groups, the Senate amended the bill to make it voluntary for landlords to accept the reusable reports, meaning apartment owners will still be able to order reports from their own provider, said Mike Blount, chief of staff for Assemblymember Christopher M. Ward (D-San Diego), who sponsored the bill.
Landlords can charge prospective tenants a screening fee of $30 or more per application.
In an interview, Ward said that starting with the option of reusable reports would allow landlords and prospective renters to become more comfortable with them. At a later date, he said, there could be a conversation about making reusable reports the norm.
What you can do before, during and after your tenancy to get as much of your security deposit back as possible, plus what to do in case of a dispute with your landlord.
The bill now heads back to the Assembly for concurrence on the Senate amendment, the final step before landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. If the bill passes and Newsom signs it, California would be the third state, after Washington and Maryland, to implement legislation allowing reusable screening reports.
The reports would be good for 30 days and would include employment verification, a credit check and a seven-year eviction history. Landlords would be able to access the reports from a third-party provider.
Ward said that through discussions with constituents, he’s heard that some units have 30 or more applicants.
“It’s becoming sadly more commonplace that renters are paying a lot more application fees and are having to apply for multiple properties because of the limited supply,” he said. “It’s really a burden for middle- and lower-income Californians trying to get by, on top of all of the high cost-of-living issues going on today.”
The bill comes as apartment vacancies in L.A. County have hit a two-decade low. The vacancy rate fell to 3.5% for the second quarter of this year, the lowest since 2001, according to CoStar, a real estate firm that tracks buildings with five or more units.
“First and foremost, this is California, and in general, there’s not enough new housing being built, and so demand still remains very, very high,” said Jay Lybik, a CoStar analyst. “For L.A. County itself, we continue to see a very strong demand for multifamily units.”
The rental market is becoming more competitive as students return to L.A. for college, said Dowell Meyers, a professor of urban planning and demography at USC.
The number of apartments available for rent in L.A. County is the lowest it’s been in two decades. The booming job market isn’t helping.
“Nobody likes filling out paperwork, and the paperwork itself is a barrier that will stop people from applying to many places,” Meyers said. “I think a standardized application form would make it less work for landlords and leasing agents and also for the consumers. So that’s a good idea and requires some coordination.”
Some tenant advocates, however, say the most recent version of the bill stops short of helping Californians find affordable housing.
“The watered-down bill is another example of the state Legislature failing renters of California and not responding adequately to the housing crisis we face,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.
Gross, whose organization runs a tenants rights clinic, said he’s heard from Angelenos who say they can’t afford to pay the credit report fees required in the application process. He doesn’t believe tenants should have to pay for credit reports and said landlords should absorb the full cost.
“It’s the scene out of ‘Mad Max’ for tenants trying to find apartments these days,” he said. “By the time they put in an application, those apartments are already gone. Quite frankly, we haven’t seen the worst of it yet, because there are still protections in the city of Los Angeles, and if those expire, we’re just going to see an avalanche of evictions and more people trying to find more rental housing.”
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