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I've been trying to find a new apartment. Each application I've submitted cost between $20-$35 and I've yet to find a new place.

A lot of these places have me just write out a check which I never see again. How do I know that they are actually using my money for its intended purpose and not just collecting checks from people looking for apartments? Can I get any proof that they actually used the money to run my credit or what ever it is they are doing? I'm in the California, LA, area if that helps.

  • what are they telling you after a few days? Are there multiple applicants competing for one open unit? – mhoran_psprep Jun 24 '15 at 21:02
  • I would assume that it's multiple applicants for the unit but they either just tell me "Oh sorry you don't qualify for the place" or no reply at all. – T. Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 21:03
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Slightly abbreviated version of the guidance from NOLO.com

California state law limits credit check or application screening fees landlords can charge prospective tenants and specifies what landlords must do when accepting these types of fees. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6.)

Here are key provisions:

  • Landlords may charge a maximum screening fee of around $35 per applicant.
  • This screening fee may be used for “actual out-of-pocket costs” of obtaining a credit report, plus “the reasonable value of time spent” by a landlord in obtaining a consumer credit report or checking personal references and background information on a rental applicant.
  • A landlord who uses the screening fee to obtain the applicant’s credit report must give the applicant a copy of the report upon his or her request.
  • If the landlord spends less (for the credit report and your time) than the screening fee they collected, they must refund the difference. A landlord who never gets a credit report or checks references on an applicant must refund the entire screening fee.
  • Unless the applicant agrees in writing, a landlord may not charge a screening fee if no rental unit is available. However, if a unit will be available within a reasonable period of time, a landlord may charge the fee without obtaining the applicant’s written permission.
  • Landlords must provide an itemized receipt when collecting an application screening fee.

I am not a lawyer, but it would seem you have two options if you catch a landlord violating these rules.

  • Sue them in small claims court for your $30 back.
  • Report them to the California Dept of Consumer Affairs, Better Business Bureau, or County District Attorney's office (don't expect much in the way of results from any of these options other than feeling vindicated)

An idea to avoid the whole problem in the first place: Get a copy of your credit report yourself and take a copy with you to meet the landlord. If they want an application fee, ask why they need it making it clear you know the above law. If they say for a credit report offer to give them a copy in lieu of the fee.

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    So can I request a copy of the credit report that they get? If they arent willing to provide a copy of the report who do I contact to get my money back? Can I just contact my bank and tell them I was scammed? – T. Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 21:12
  • You can always get a copy of your own credit report, but that doesn't really help you. You can tell your bank to put a stop payment on the check (fraud or not) if they haven't cashed it yet. I am not a lawyer, but to get your money back you probably wold have to sue them in small claims court. – JohnFx Jun 24 '15 at 22:39

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