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Part Four | Decoding Rental ‘Junk Fees’ | The Path Forward for the Multifamily Industry

Author: Kasee Godwin
Date: 07.31.2023

Decoding Rental ‘Junk Fees’ | The Path Forward for the Multifamily Industry

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of our series, “Decoding Rental ‘Junk Fees.'” 

In Part One, we explored the challenges of rental ‘junk fees’ and their impact on fair housing practices. Part Two delved into valuable insights from a recently published report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and shed light on residents’ challenges during background checks and excessive charges. In Part Three, we highlighted recent state legislation across various states in the United States, addressing upfront fees and promoting transparency in rental housing. 

Now, let’s conclude our journey by examining the culmination of efforts and the path toward fairer renting practices.

Rental ‘junk fees’ have been a subject of debate, with policymakers striving to strike a balance between protecting residents and recognizing the operational realities faced by property managers. 

To provide a comprehensive understanding, we consider the perspectives of both renters and industry professionals.

Understanding the Rental Industry Perspective

Bob Pinnegar, the CEO of the National Apartment Association, emphasizes that the multifamily industry supports increased transparency and values open dialogue between housing providers and residents. Property managers understand the importance of fostering fair housing practices while serving their residents and communities. They strive to provide amenities and services that enhance the living experience, but these offerings come at a cost.

Property managers need to maintain a delicate balance between offering quality services and managing narrow profit margins for the rental housing industry to remain viable. Application fees, while controversial, have historically been a means to cover the costs associated with applicant screening and the leasing process. By communicating these fees transparently within the lease agreement and leasing process, property managers aim to ensure clarity for residents.

The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) also acknowledges the complexities of the issue, stating that while fees play a role in covering legitimate operational expenses, it is vital to address potential abuses and ensure fees are reasonable and necessary. While upfront fee transparency is important, NMHC leaders encourage lawmakers to focus on other actionable steps to lower housing costs meaningfully.  

Overall, multifamily industry experts advocate for education and best practices, aiming to create an environment where residents are well-informed about fees and property managers are empowered to provide top-notch services financially and sustainably. But, they point out the need for balance in all approaches. Apartment communities are a business; like all other businesses, they incur operating costs. The operational costs vary from property to property and state to state- a one-size-fits-all approach could cause more harm than good. 

Potential Impacts on the Multifamily Industry

While promoting transparency and fairness in the rental process is essential, property managers face challenges in balancing the economic realities of the industry. By limiting certain fees, property managers may need to explore alternative revenue streams to cover operational costs, maintenance, and community services.

The transition to new fee structures may also affect rental prices and property management budgets. To ensure housing remains affordable and viable, stakeholders must collaborate to find solutions that safeguard both resident rights and the economic sustainability of the multifamily industry.

Advancing Openness: Rental Platforms Embrace Transparency 

In addition to legislative efforts, private companies in the rental housing industry are taking significant steps to empower renters with enhanced cost transparency. 

  • Zillow has introduced the “Cost of Renting Summary” on its active apartment listings. This new tool empowers the platform’s 28 million unique monthly users with clear information on the upfront cost of renting an apartment. By providing detailed insights into all monthly charges and one-time expenses like security deposits and application fees, Zillow seeks to equip renters with comprehensive financial knowledge, enabling more informed decisions.
  • Apartments.com is also making strides in supporting renters by launching a new calculator on its platform. This calculator will help renters determine the all-in price of their desired unit, encompassing recurring monthly rents and fees and all up-front costs. With almost 1.5 million active availabilities listed across over 385,000 properties, Apartments.com aims to empower renters with complete financial transparency, facilitating a smoother and more transparent rental process.
  • AffordableHousing.com, the nation’s largest online platform dedicated solely to affordable housing, is implementing measures to ensure fee disclosure and protection for renters. The platform will require owners to disclose all refundable and non-refundable fees and charges upfront in their listings. By introducing a “Trusted Owner” badge, AffordableHousing.com will further safeguard renters from being charged ‘junk fees.’ This badge will identify owners who adhere to best practices, including the commitment to reasonable fee limits, no junk fees, and full fee disclosure, providing renters with peace of mind and greater confidence in their rental decisions.

As private companies prioritize enhanced cost transparency, renters will benefit from greater clarity and understanding of the financial aspects of the rental process. These proactive initiatives by prominent rental platforms aim to promote fairness, empower renters, and contribute to a more transparent and equitable rental housing market.

Embracing a Balanced Approach in the Multifamily Industry

As the rental housing industry progresses, embracing a balanced approach is key to navigating the complexities surrounding rental application fees and ‘junk fees.’ Property managers and legislators must continue collaborating to protect resident interests while sustaining the industry’s viability.

Open communication and ongoing dialogue between property managers and residents foster trust and understanding. By working together, stakeholders can address concerns, seek common ground, and identify opportunities for improvement.

The multifamily or rental housing industry faces challenges and opportunities as it adapts to evolving legislation and resident expectations. Embracing increased transparency, fair housing practices, and open dialogue will be essential for building a future where residents and property managers can thrive. As we look ahead, continued collaboration between industry professionals, residents, and legislators will shape a rental housing landscape that prioritizes fairness, affordability, and a sense of community for all residents.

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Kasee Godwin

Position: Director of Marketing
Social Networks

Kasee is the Director of Marketing for Qira. She has nearly 15 years of experience in the real estate marketing industry, including 10 years on the client side. In her spare time, she enjoys reading science fiction, exploring new wineries, and fostering Golden Retrievers.

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