My friend graduated last year and recently started looking for an apartment. He’s having a stressful time, he says, because he’s encountering all kinds of weird stuff in the big city he’s looking in. Landlords want a lot of information about him before they let him sign anything, and he’s also being asked to pay fees and stuff before he even gets the apartment. Is any of this legal? What kind of rights does my friend have?
It’s impossible to say for sure without more information about your friend’s situation, but it seems likely that the things he’s experienced are perfectly legal. Let’s talk a little about the process of renting an apartment–and let’s remember to take both sides of the equation into account.
When renting an apartment, a landlord wants to make sure that he or she rents to a reliable tenant–one who can afford the rent and who will treat the space with respect. For this reason, it’s perfectly normal to screen tenants, say the veteran landlords behind TurboTenant’s free tenant screening. A credit check is especially vital, as landlords don’t want to rent to someone who can’t pay the rent.
Though norms and laws vary from place to place, it’s not unusual for landlords and real estate agents to ask would-be tenants to pay for background checks and credit checks themselves. It’s best to ask ahead of time and know what you’re getting into. You can expect fees like application fees (usually including the aforementioned credit check fee), the broker’s fee, and (upon signing the lease) a security deposit and extra deposit for any pets–but you should never pay just to view an apartment, which is something that only scammers will ask of you.
The realtor’s fee is something you’ll deal with only if you use a broker, and it can vary quite a bit from region to region. In some places, broker’s fees can be as high as a full month’s rent.
All of these systems are in place to protect landlords (though tenants who want to live in safe apartment buildings benefit, too). But there are also plenty of protections for your friend once he signs his lease. These protections vary from state to state and city to city, but they set down the rules involving things like evictions and what a landlord is required to do to keep your friend’s apartment safe and comfortable. In places where renting is a way of life–like New York City and San Francisco–renters protections are particularly strong.
It pays to research laws in your area, of course, and your friend should double-check things if he’s leery of what realtors and landlords are asking him of him. But he may find that finding an apartment simply has some costs that he was not aware of!
“Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other path, no other way, no day but today.” — Jonathan Larson, Rent