White House takes aim at rental ‘junk fees’ with data and online listings partnerships

The White House cites “repeated application fees” and “surprise convenience fees” as too burdensome for American families

The White House announced today that it is taking a stronger stance against rental fees, saying that fees associated with applications or “convenience” are burdensome on American families and can often surprise them.

Such fees also distort the true cost of an apartment, the White House said. To that end, private companies including Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com will more plainly illustrate the presence of these fees on apartment listings hosted on their online platforms.

“From repeated rental application fees to surprise ‘convenience fees,’ millions of families incur burdensome costs in the rental application process and throughout the duration of their lease,” the Biden administration said in Wednesday’s announcement. “These fees are often more than the actual cost of providing the service, or are added onto rents to cover services that renters assume are included—or that they don’t even want.”

Rental application fees can total as much as $100 per application, a cost that could add up for families facing challenges locating an apartment and who submit multiple applications, the White House said. The Biden administration also contends that these costs often outweigh the actual costs that property management companies and landlords incur when conducting background and credit checks.

“Given that prospective renters often apply for multiple units over the course of their housing search, these application fees can add up to hundreds of dollars,” the White House said. “Even after renters secure housing, they are often surprised to be charged mandatory fees on top of their rent, including ‘convenience fees’ to pay rent online, fees for things like mail sorting and trash collection, and even so-called ‘January fees’ charged for no clear reason at the beginning of a new calendar year.”

The administration outlined three initiatives designed to tackle these issues. These include commitments from  property listing websites including Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com that “will provide consumers with total, upfront cost information on rental properties, which can be hundreds of dollars on top of the advertised rent.”

There is also new research now available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that “provides a blueprint for a nationwide effort to address rental housing junk fees,” while legislative action at the state level are joining the White House to codify crackdowns on “junk fees” into law.

“Too often, renters are hit with unexpected fees on top of their rent,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge in a statement. “Today’s announcement shows the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to lower costs for renters and build a fairer, more transparent rental housing marketplace.”

The newly-released data from HUD arrived in the form of a brief that highlights “state, local, and private sector strategies to encourage fairness and transparency in the rental market, including actions to reign in excessive or unfair application fees and limit allowable fees and deposits at the time of move-in or lease signing,” HUD said.

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