Zillow, Apartments.com join Biden’s war on rental housing fees

Publish Date: July 19, 2023

Written by Taylor Anderson

- Originally published at Inman News - Taylor Anderson

Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com agreed to join the fight in a continuation of a war on rental fees the Biden administration announced in March.

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President Joe Biden gave more insight into a plan to combat what the White House called rental housing “junk fees” on Wednesday, part of a new partnership with some of the nation’s biggest housing platforms.

Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com each agreed to show prospective renters the total upfront cost for a rental, including any possible fees that add to the cost of housing. The Biden administration also released a blueprint for attacking rental housing fees.

The plan seeks to shed light on a host of fees property managers and landlords often add, including rental application fees, convenience fees, background checks, credit checks and more. It is a continuation of a war on rental fees the administration announced in March.

“Rental housing fees can be a serious burden on renters,” the White House said in a statement. “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 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been focused for the past year on barriers to housing, particularly for people of color.

Fees charged to prospective renters can range from $50 to several hundred dollars per application and they “disproportionately [burden] Black and Hispanic renters and low-income households with housing vouchers, ”HUD said in a paper released Wednesday.

Conducting background checks and credit checks are considered standard ways to screen prospective tenants. But the White House said property managers often charge more than the cost of the service.

What’s more, some landlords charge convenience fees for things like paying rent online and other services that might not even exist, the White House said.

Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com — some of the biggest online platforms for rental housing — agreed to provide more transparency into the full cost of renting. 

On Wednesday, Zillow began providing a rundown of the various fees renters must pay for its active rental listings. It’s calling the tool a “Cost of Renting Summary.”

“Renters should feel financially confident when applying for an apartment, no surprises included,” said Christopher Roberts, senior vice president and general manager of Zillow Rentals. “Transparency is at the core of our commitment to renters, and tools like the Cost of Renting Summary provide them with the comprehensive data to navigate the housing market and discover the perfect home within their budget.” 

Apartments.com plans to release a new calculator that includes all upfront and recurring costs for renting a property, the White House said. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about when the tool would be made available on its platform, which is part of the CoStar Group.

AffordableHousing.com, the largest online platform dedicated solely to displaying lower-income units, launched a new feature that identifies property owners who have a history of charging reasonable fees.

HUD recommended legislative action by states to cap the amount of money landlords can charge for applications and tenant screening.

It also recommended states allow renters to provide their own screening report, allowing them to save money when applying for multiple units at a time.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing on junk fees next Wednesday.

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