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Shocked by those extra monthly apartment fees? 3 big rental sites plan to reveal them

Some major rental search sites will show extra monthly "junk fees" that can surprise consumers and make a place less affordable.
Gerry Broome
Some major rental search sites will show extra monthly "junk fees" that can surprise consumers and make a place less affordable.

Updated July 19, 2023 at 6:00 PM ET

Three major rental platforms will start showing extra monthly fees that can surprise tenants — and add up to make a place less affordable than it first seemed. These charges can include things most people assume is included in the rent, like for trash removal, paying online or sorting mail.

"Renters should feel financially confident when applying for an apartment, no surprises included," Christopher Roberts, Zillow's senior vice president and general manager, said in a statement.

Zillow launches its new service today, which will also include application fees, security deposits, parking and pet fees. Apartments.com will roll out a new calculator this year that includes all upfront costs and recurring fees. AffordableHousing.com will require property owners to disclose all fees and upfront charges in their listings, and identify those with a history of best practices.

The announcement was made in coordination with the Biden administration, which has issued its own blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights.

"We hope that ... by having these fees more apparent and transparent, it will begin to drive competition amongst housing providers," says Adrianne Todman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a statement, the National Apartment Association said the industry supports more transparency. But "rental housing is a narrow-margin industry," said President and CEO Bob Pinnegar. "Amenities and services come at a cost, which is communicated with residents in the lease and the leasing process."

A record 21.6 million U.S. households are rent-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent. A recent report by the National Consumer Law Center warned that extra fees are helping drive up that burden, and can "jeopardize access to future housing and financial stability when they contribute to rental debts and blemishes on renters' credit reports."

NCLC senior attorney April Kuehnhoff said the group's survey found "excessive and sometimes illegal late fees, as well as convenience fees, roommate fees and even a fee just because it's January!" Two renter advocates surveyed in Minnesota reported seeing fees in January for seemingly no reason.

In a call with reporters, a senior Biden administration official also criticized high rental application fees. "They're often far more than the actual cost to run a check," he said, and in the current tight housing market many people must pay them over and over, adding up to hundreds of dollars.

The administration is taking no action to limit application fees. But the senior official said the hope is that more transparency and competition around total rental costs "will have the effect of cutting them down."

HUD Deputy Secretary Todman also praises the growing number of states and cities that are doing even more to bring down the cost of applying for a place to live. "For instance, in Colorado, they are going to require that prospective tenants are able to reuse their rental application for up to 30 days" with no extra charge, she says.

Landlords and property owners have fought such legislation, saying they need to be able to charge a reasonable fee, and decide what data they want in a background or credit check.

"We never agree that there's a one-size-fits-all solution for any housing policy," Nicole Upano with the National Apartment Association told NPR earlier this year.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jennifer Ludden
Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.