Dear Consumer Ed:

In searching for a house to rent for myself and my 18 year-old son, I have encountered application fees of up to $50 per adult living in the house.   They also require a move-out fee.  Is there any limit as to how much a landlord can charge for these types of fees?

Consumer Ed says: 

No, there is no limit as to what a landlord can charge for these fees under Georgia or Federal law.  If you think a particular fee is unreasonable, your only recourse is not to apply to rent that landlord’s rental property.  When deciding whether a particular fee is reasonable, you should ask the landlord or leasing company to explain the reason for these charges.

Landlords who charge an application fee typically use this money to pay for the cost of running a credit check and criminal background check on the applicant(s). This fee is usually not refundable if your application is denied.  To potentially cut down on this cost, you can obtain your credit report and bring a copy with you when you are negotiating your lease.  The landlord is not required to accept your offered report as an alternative to running his own credit check, but if he agrees to accept it you could save yourself some money.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — every 12 months upon your request.  To obtain your free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You may also complete an Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:

    Annual Credit Report Request Service
    P.O. Box 105281
    Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Move-out fees are less common, but may be charged as long as the fee is included in the lease and the landlord is consistent in charging all tenants a move-out fee. If the landlord charges some tenants this fee, but not others, he might be in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of a rental on the basis of race, color, religion, familial status, or national origin.  If you think that you have been the victim of such housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination.

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