Press Release: Berkeley City Council May Improve Screening Fee Protection for Apartment Seekers

From Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Monday April 25, 2011 - 07:17:00 PM

Renters looking for an apartment may be able to keep more of their money in their pocket if a tenant screening fee proposal (PDF) is passed by the Berkeley City Council this upcoming Tuesday night. 

With more people seeking rental housing in this economic downturn, a $40screening fee can be a significant burden for low-income renters and students, particularly when renters have to apply for multiple units before successfully landing one in Berkeley’s competitive rental market. 

The Tenant Screening Fees Ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, would require that rental applicants receive a copy of California Civil Code 1950.6 (state tenant screening fee law) when paying an application fee. 

State law sets the maximum fee that can be charged to apply for rental housing (currently, $42.41) and requires that any fee only covers the direct cost of the screening. Rental applicants must be provided with an itemized receipt and refunded any unused portion of the fee. 

Despite these protections, however, both landlords and renters often are unaware of state screening fee requirements, which -in addition to a lack of penalty for non-compliance- make the state law ineffective. As a result, there have been many cases where fees have been inappropriately used as a way to generate income such as landlords charging more than the actual cost or accepting a fee with no intention of conducting a screening, often times after another applicant has already been screened and accepted. 

The Ordinance aims to address these shortcomings by educating tenants and landlords about their existing rights and providing effective enforcement through an enhanced private right of action. The Ordinance does not require any City staff resources or the expenditure of any City funds for implementation. 

“Information is powerful and it’s important that renters and landlords know their rights to better protect themselves,” said Councilmember Arreguín. “This proposal will keep more dollars in the pockets of those who need it most –low-income renters and students simply searching for a place to live.” 

The City Council meeting begins at 7PM on Tuesday, April 26th

WHAT:Berkeley City Council vote on Tenant Screening Fee Protections 

WHEN:Tuesday, April 26 2011. Meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. 

WHERE:City Council Chambers, Second Floor, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA (between Center and Allston Streets)