STATE HOUSE – Sen. Melissa Murray, a Democrat from District 24 in Woonsocket and North Smithfield, has introduced legislation to prohibit rental application fees in Rhode Island.
The bill, supporters say, is aimed at eliminating a barrier that makes it yet more difficult for renters to secure an apartment in Rhode Island’s tight housing market.
“Renters are not guaranteed anything for their money when they pay an application fee to rent an apartment. And because of the difficulty in obtaining housing in our state, a renter may have to apply to apartment after apartment before they are able to secure housing,” Murray said. “That can add up to hundreds of dollars in fees — on top of high rents, security deposits, and moving expenses that already burden Rhode Island families and individuals. Application fees are an unnecessary barrier to housing and just another contributor to housing affordability problems in our state.”
Rep. David Morales, a Democrat from District 7 in Providence, has sponsored companion legislation in the House.
“Unfortunately, we are continuing to see property management companies and unethical landlords take advantage of the rental application process by charging outrageous, non-refundable application fees to prospective tenants,” Morales said in a release. “Furthermore, it is often lower-income families and people of color who are most harmed by these unnecessary fees, as they are the ones who are typically paying higher fees and are more likely paying a series of fees for multiple apartments while searching for a new place to live. And while Section 8 subsidizes rent, it does not subsidize application fees, therefore, working people who are already struggling are left to find a way to pay these fees on their own.”
“Clearly, rental application fees are a roadblock and could even be used to discourage some people from applying for a rental opportunity at all,” Morales added. “Given all the difficulties they inflict on renters in our state, it is only right that we prohibit rental application fees completely.”
The legislation (2023-S 0311, 2023-H 5580), which is scheduled for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, would prohibit landlords, brokers or real estate managers from charging any monetary fee during the rental application process for a residential unit, including a fee for a credit check, background check, screening or administrative services. Any violation would be considered an unfair business practice, punishable as a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500.
Numerous other states have prohibited or limited rental application fees. Massachusetts and Vermont both prohibit landlords from charging them, while several other states including New York have enacted limits.
A release on the legislation noted that a consumer housing trends report issued last year by Zillow found that larger shares of renters who were Black, at 69 percent; Latino, at 65 percent; and Asian American/Pacific Islanders, at 60 percent, reported paying an application fee than white renters, at 53 percent. Black and Latino renters were also nearly twice as likely to report submitting five or more applications. Renters of color also reported paying higher median application fees than white renters: The typical white renter reported paying $35 in application fees on their rental, while the typical Black, Latino, and Asian renters reported $50 as their median fee.