These 3 Apartment Rental Sites Are Fighting Back Against Sneaky Fees

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More and more, hidden rental fees are a wicked surprise. You sign an apartment lease, thinking you know what the total rent will be. But then they tack on fees — trash removal fees, mail sorting fees, pet fees, parking fees, even “convenience fees” for paying online. Then there’s all the application fees you have to pay just to land a spot in the first place.

It’s a pain when you’re trying to navigate your way through this expensive rental market. How much will you really pay at this place or that other place?

Now three of the biggest online rental platforms are taking steps to help renters with this problem. Zillow, and are going to show you all those extra monthly fees that jack up the cost of an apartment. That way, you’ll know what you’re getting into when you’re deciding where to rent.

This is all part of the Biden administration’s crackdown on what it calls “junk fees.”

“Renters are already struggling to find safe and stable housing during a severe affordable housing shortage,” said April Kuehnhoff, senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, which has studied this issue. “Now, on top of sky-high rent prices, renters are being forced to pay excessive and sometimes illegal late fees, as well as convenience fees, roommate fees, and even a fee just because it’s January!”

Tools Will Make Rental Costs More Transparent

Here’s what these apartment rental websites are doing about the problem:

  • Zillow is launching a “cost of renting summary” on its active apartment listings, adding up all the extra fees.
  • will launch a new calculator this year that’ll help renters determine the all-in price of an apartment.
  •, the nation’s largest online platform dedicated to affordable housing, will require owners to disclose all refundable and nonrefundable fees and charges upfront in their listings.

All of this will allow apartment hunters to comparison-shop more easily. It’ll make everything less of a mystery.

The National Consumer Law Center recently conducted a survey about rental fees. Nearly 90% of survey respondents reported that their landlords had imposed rental application fees. Nearly as many (87%) said their landlords charged excessive late fees.

Well over half of respondents reported being charged utility-related fees (73%), processing or administrative fees (68%), convenience fees (60%), insurance fees (59%) and notice fees (56%). The report even mentions a “January fee” — a fee that two Minnesota renters got charged in January for seemingly no reason.

The Burden of Application Fees

Rental application fees are the worst — and they’re everywhere. “Application fees are pervasive within the rental market,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a report.

Here’s why application fees are such a problem: Most prospective renters contact several owners or property managers and visit multiple places during their housing search.

Typically, each time you apply to rent a house or apartment, you have to pay a rental application fee. That fee can range from $50 to several hundred dollars and is supposedly meant to cover the cost of background and credit checks.

A tighter rental market nationally has led to an increase in the number of renters applying to two or more properties.

“Even if prospective renters are charged modest application fees, the fact that most prospective renters apply to at least one unit means these costs can add up quickly,” HUD said in its report. “Because tenant screening reports may include inaccurate information, prospective renters may pay multiple application fees only to be repeatedly rejected because of those inaccuracies.”

In other words, you might pay a bunch of expensive application fees and still be out of luck.

A Crackdown on Junk Fees

So what’s the purpose of all this?

Like we mentioned before, this is all part of the Biden administration’s crackdown on what it calls “junk fees.” The administration is also calling attention to extra fees being charged by airlines and by concert and live-event ticketing platforms.

The hope is that, with more rental fees being made public, fewer apartment complexes and landlords will spring nasty surprise fees on their tenants.

What You As a Renter Can Do

If nothing else, these new policies from Zillow, and will give you useful comparison-shopping tools as a renter.

Renting is like any economic transaction: It’s always to your advantage if you have more than one option. That way you can play different options against each other.

If you’re going to try to negotiate with an apartment complex or a landlord, the most effective thing you can do is get familiar with the local rental market. Know what rates other apartment complexes and landlords are charging and what they’re charging for.

Have a backup plan ready so you can walk away if you can’t get a deal you’re willing to accept.

No one likes a nasty surprise.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.