Most rental application fees amount to $35-75. These payments cover the cost of processing the rental application like running a background check. However, there are no legal limits in Ohio on how much a property manager can charge in application fees, and this money is not refunded if the applicant is denied. For returning citizens, property managers frequently deny housing if the applicant is found to have a background. The applicant is given little recourse to dispute these findings. This can lead an applicant to repeatedly apply for housing only to be denied without explanation. This is costly in both time and money, and can prevent a returning citizen from finding secure housing.
Cuyahoga County should explore the possibility of creating a common housing application repository where applicants can submit one application and be matched with a willing property manager. Alternatively, the County should consider the creation of a fund to provide mini-grants that can be used toward housing applications. Until Fair Chance Housing ordinances and policies that end Source-of-Income discrimination are passed, this is a major issue that will need to be addressed by government.
In addition, another approach would be to consider “First in Time” ordinances like those in Seattle and Portland, where housing providers are required to state in writing the criteria that must be met to rent from them and to accept the first qualified applicant. This can help to address a recurring challenge where applicants are losing a substantial amount of money paying application fees for housing they qualify for, but keep getting passed over when a housing provider takes 10 applications and picks their favorite. Such a change is likely to impact many populations facing housing barriers in addition to those in the reentry community.
-Margie Glick, LMM Director of Advocacy
Learn more about LMM’s Fair Chance Housing efforts here.