Add-on Rental Fees and Background Checks Become The Norm In Apartment Leasing

As the recession lengthens, apartment landlords look for ways to maximize their profits and minimize risk. Lately, technology is lending a hand with cheap and easy online data sharing that checks a person’s rental history, criminal record, credit scores, income and more. After you’re in, landlords are also beginning to tack on a variety of charges and rental fees that essentially raise the rent.

Background checks become automated

Some of the tools that landlords and apartment managers use now are much more sophisticated than they used to be. Comprehensive checks can be had for as little as $15. These background checks look at the following:

Criminal history. The applicant’s prior addresses from credit reports are cross-checked with state and local court records.
Sex offender registry. A public sex offender list is maintained by every state.
Terrorist and most-wanted lists. Although the U.S. government’s Terrorist Screening Database is secret, the U.S. Treasury’s list of "Specially Designated Nationals" isn’t. It lists those suspected of supporting terrorists financially. Other lists that can be checked are those maintained by the FBI, the U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to name a few.
Eviction history. Information from housing courts is sold to screening companies, and can be used to deny a rental to a tenant, even if the person was not at fault.
Credit history. Although credit scores have long been used as a screening device, screening companies are now creating their own "rental score" based on payment patterns.
Income-debt ratio. Outstanding debt is looked at in ratio to rent and fees. Past income may also become part of income verification in the future.

The outcome of all this data checking is that fewer and fewer people are passing apartment complexes’ stipulations.

Fees take over the market

Landlords are now starting to charge an excess of fees: administrative fees, application fees, credit-checking fees, move-in fees, pet fees, cleaning fees. Most, if not all, of these fees are nonrefundable.
The fees continue once you’ve actually moved in. Apartments now charge facilities fees, storage fees, parking fees, or utility-management fees. Basically, these fees increase your rent.
Some fees, such as excessive late charges, may be illegal or unjustified. It’s up to tenants to keep an eye on lease agreements and know their rights.

First, learn the tenant-landlord laws in your city and state. Then, look for apartment rating guides online, or if you are a student, ask your university housing office for information about the apartment complexes in your area.
Next, you can ask property managers about the fees they are charging. Ask if they have the right to charge the fees, and make them provide you with documentation on fees, their right to charge them, and exactly what they cover.
If you feel your landlord has charged unreasonable fees as part of the lease, go to small-claims court. You might not be able to dispute the upfront fees, but fees tacked onto rent are subject to contract law and therefore must be reasonable in relation to costs.
Finally, you can always negotiate fees, especially if you are a good tenant and the landlord has many open units. It never hurts to ask the landlord to waive some fees.