California state law limits how much landlords can charge applicants for credit check or rental application screening fees. California law also specifies what landlords must do when accepting these types of fees.
When a California landlord charges a rental application or screening fee, they must adhere to the following rules:
(Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6 (2023).)
Landlords in California should also be aware that consumers may place a "freeze" on their credit reports, preventing anyone but specified parties (such as law enforcement) from getting their credit report. (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1785.11.2 (2023) and following.) However, consumers can arrange for certain persons—such as a landlord or management company—to access their report; or the freeze itself can be suspended for a specified period of time. When a credit report is frozen, the landlord will have to request access to receive a copy of the report. An applicant who fails to lift a freeze will have an incomplete application, which is grounds for rejecting that application. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1785.11.2(h) (2023).)
Given the tight rental market in California, many applicants end up submitting multiple rental applications before having one accepted. The cost of these rental applications can add up to hundreds of dollars. To avoid having to pay these fees, some tenants might attempt to submit their own reusable screening or credit report with an application.
Although California landlords aren't required to accept reusable tenant screening reports, California law provides for what should be included in a reusable report, should a landlord agree to accept one. The report should have been prepared within the previous 30 days by a consumer reporting agency and shouldn't cost the landlord anything to access or use. The report should include the applicant's:
The report must also prominently state the date through which the information contained in the report is current.
If a landlord chooses to accept a reusable tenant screening report, the landlord cannot charge an application fee. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.1 (2023).)