HousingLink Blog

When Should a Renter Pay an Application Fee?

by Rick Galster | Sep 18, 2015

Have you felt the pain of getting denied an apartment and losing out on application fees? This is common for renters with difficult criminal, credit, or rental histories. There are only 2 situations when you should submit an application and pay the fee:

  1. When you are 100% sure that you meet the landlord's rental criteria (income, credit, criminal, and rental history).
  2. When you have talked with the landlord about how you don't meet their criteria, but he or she is willing to make an exception for your specific situation.

Only submit an application or pay the fee if you meet the landlord's rental criteria or they are willing to make an exception for your background. This will save you a lot of money when searching for a place to rent.

In Minnesota, if a landlord charges an application fee they must provide their rental criteria in writing. Ask to see the criteria if they don't provide it. Make sure to know the following things about your background before you start searching for an apartment:

  • Your gross monthly income (before taxes are taken out). This is the number landlords use to determine if you meet their income requirements.
  • Your credit score. This is available through the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Trans Union, or Equifax for a fee. Credit Karma is a free service you can try.
  • Your criminal background. Know specifically what is on your record (felony, misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, etc.)
  • Your rental history. Rental history includes public records like evictions and what previous landlords say you were like as a renter (late rent, noise complaints, property damage, etc.)

If your background meets the landlord's rental criteria, go ahead and apply! If not, tell the landlord which parts of the criteria you do not meet. Then explain how you are working to make things better, and why what happened in the past will not occur again. Ask the landlord if they will make an exception to their criteria and allow you to rent the apartment.

Remain patient! If you have a bad background, it will take longer to find a landlord who will work with you. But make sure that you don't waste money on application fees in the process! Only apply if you meet the criteria OR the landlord is willing to work with your specific situation.