- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Some Oregon housing advocates worry that landlords and property owners in Bend are padding their profits by collecting application fees from prospective renters when they’ve already decided a tenant, a practice known as “fee stacking.”

A review of local houses and apartments for rent suggested that most require an application fee between $35 and $45 for every adult household member, reported The Bend Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1OejaMP ).

Chris Clouart is a manager at a homeless shelter in Bend and said he thinks landlords are trying to get extra money through the application fees, although he admitted it’s difficult to prove.

“If you go on Craigslist and see a place that’s been for rent for more than a week or two weeks, chances are they’re fee stacking,” Clouart said.

“It’s hard sometimes to know what’s going on,” he added. “But I think it’s important we be aware there are areas where things can be abused, particularly with something as significant as housing.”

Because the fees are relatively small, they’re easy to abuse, according to Legal Aid Services regional director Erika Hente.

She said the best way to contest a fee would be through small claims court. There, an applicant who can prove a landlord rented a unit before charging the fee, or took the fee but didn’t conduct a screening, can recover up to twice the fee plus $150.

But she said going to court is uncommon because would-be tenants are often unfamiliar with the law and unable to pay the $35 small claims filing fee.

“For folks that are trying to get into places, they don’t have the time. They’re trying to get as many applications in as they can,” she said.

Property manager and tenant advocate Jack Rinn said only a minority of landlords fee stack, and says it might not always be intentional.

He said someone in a property management office might collect an application fee for a unit without knowing that someone else agreed to rent it to an earlier applicant. Then they might fail to refund the fee when the mistake is discovered.

The limited availability of rentals in Bend means landlords and property managers get more applications than are necessary, usually very quickly, according to Rinn. He said recently listed a property on Craigslist and got his first inquiry only 45 seconds after posting.

Rinn said he’s concerned that Ben’s continued growth has but renters in a position that leaves them reluctant to exercise their rights or question a landlord.

“In the past, we always had the discipline of the marketplace - act like a jerk as a landlord, and you’re going to have vacancies,” Rinn said. “All of a sudden we wake up one morning - and economists can argue about how we got to this - but we wake up one morning and it’s 100 percent one-sided. Landlords and property owners are in the driver’s seat.”


Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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