The One Apartment Fee You Probably Don’t Need to Pay

published Dec 9, 2020
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From pet application fees to security deposits, there are a slew of fees you typically have to pay before you’re able to rent an apartment. Many are necessary to securing a lease, but there’s one that you might be able to convince your landlord to waive: the credit check fee.

First, it helps to know what a credit check entails. According to Mihal Gartenberg with Warburg Realty, a credit check is more comprehensive than simply checking your credit score. “What I like to look on behalf of my landlords is the (payment) history—how many late payments have you had?” she says. “Going into your history as a debtor will give a more broad sense of whether or not a landlord feels comfortable.”

So, a credit check allows a landlord to see your bill payment history and more, which helps them decide if you’d be a reliable tenant. A landlord or property management company will typically charge a prospective tenant for this credit check—Gartenberg says it can range from $25 to $100.

How do you avoid that fee, exactly? You can offer to pull your own credit report for the landlord.

According to Gartenberg, several banks offer free credit checks for their clients, while the three credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—offer one free assessment every year. Since there are three bureaus, she explains, you can pull a credit check once every four mouths for no charge. 

Your first order of business is to determine where you’ll get your free credit check from. Then comes convincing your landlord to accept it instead of paying for their own check. 

“The best way to convince the other party is to understand what is their motivation for getting it and what is it exactly that they’re looking for,” Gartenberg says. “What is the other party trying to accomplish and how can you alleviate that concern?”

So, if you have a landlord who wants a complete background check, just giving them your credit score won’t fulfill their needs. But if your landlord is simply looking for an official report of your credit score, you have a better chance at providing that at no cost. Doing your homework and seeking out resources to get a full credit check can also bring you one step closer to avoiding the fee, depending on your landlord.

Why are some landlords sticklers about this fee, anyway? Gartenberg says it can be one of two reasons: “Some [landlords] are doing it for the fee, but some are doing it because they really want to have control and make sure that they’re getting the right tenant,” she says. “From the landlord’s perspective, it’s very costly to make a mistake with the wrong tenant.”

If the landlord ultimately doesn’t waive the fee,  there is a silver lining. “If you have to pay for it, ask to see your report, and then just hold on to it—you never know when you might need it,” Gartenberg says.