We all know that looking for housing off campus is stressful,
time-consuming and costly. From searching in a very competitive market
and paying high rent, to finding roommates and moving and unpacking, the
last thing on your mind is the fees that you pay just to fill out an
application for an apartment.
Many landlords charge tenants a screening fee when they apply for an
apartment, sometimes called an application fee. The fee can only be used
to cover the out-of-pocket costs to obtain and process credit and other
information about someone who applies for an apartment. This is done so
that the landlord can decide who to rent to.
With students often applying to more than one apartment, those fees
can quickly add up! Unfortunately, there have been cases where landlords
have kept the difference, charged more than they are legally allowed or
collected fees for an apartment after they have already selected a
tenant as a way to generate revenue.
As many students are moving into new apartments, some do not know
that they have rights when it comes to the fees they paid to apply for
Not only does state law set limits on screening fees and how the fees
can be used (California Civil Code Section 1950.6), but earlier this
year the city of Berkeley passed a new ordinance to require disclosure
about tenant screening fee protections at the time someone applies for
an apartment (Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 13.78).
We students shell out enough money as tuition and fees are constantly
hiked, required text books become more and more expensive and rising
rent prices outpace inflation. That’s why this year, the Berkeley City
Council and the Rent Stabilization Board are working together to
encourage students to learn of their rights as renters so we can protect
ourselves and keep some much needed money in our pockets.
Information is powerful and the key to ensuring that our rights are
respected. Here’s a summary of screening fee rights you should be aware
— The maximum allowable screening fee that can be charged by state law is currently $42.41.
— The fee can only cover the direct cost of the screening. The
landlord must provide you with a receipt of those costs, in addition to a
refund of any and all unused portions of the fee.
— You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if one is obtained during the screening.
— A landlord must provide a disclosure of your screening fee rights
either in the rental application or by separate disclosure prior to
receiving a screening fee.
Additionally, by following these few, easy tips, you can further protect yourself when you apply for an apartment:
— Demand a receipt when you pay your screening fee, especially if you
pay with cash. Having a record of what you actually paid is important
should a cost dispute arise.
— Request a copy of your credit report if one was purportedly used
during the screening to ensure that a screening was in fact conducted.
— Look over the required itemized receipt of how the screening fee
was spent — be suspicious of any staff time or labor costs. The burden
is on the landlord to provide proof of the exact staff time spent
conducting the screening, and the time spent and cost has to be
If you think that a landlord has violated your screening fee rights,
please contact the Rent Stabilization Board at 981-RENT (7368) or
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin’s office at 510-981-7140.
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