Tenant Tip Tuesday: Fees

Scared of hidden fees? Random charges hovering like ghosts over your head and bank account? Find out what’s okay – and what isn’t – when it comes to fees charged by your landlord.

What is a fee?

A fee is a payment from a tenant to the landlord that is not refundable. Landlords must give you a receipt for any fee paid. Additionally, any deposit a landlord charges must be refundable.
A landlord may not charge a fee for an anticipated expense at the beginning of the lease. Any fee must be described in the written rental agreement and must be disclosed in writing before a landlord can enter into a rental agreement or accept money for a reservation deposit or security deposit.

Those spooky new fees? They’re not allowed!

If you are on a fixed term lease (like 6 months, or a year) a landlord cannot add any new fees during the term of the lease. On a month-to-month rental agreement, a landlord can add new fees with a month’s written notice, assuming they follow the rest of the law about fees.

For Section 42 tenants only

If you live in low-income tax credit (Section 42) housing, landlords are not allowed to charge you a cleaning fee to clean the apartment after you move out, even if you entered a rental agreement prior to January 1, 2010.

Noncompliance fee

Noncompliance fees are permitted when a tenant does not comply with a written rule. A noncompliance fee can be assessed only when the tenant commits one of the following violations:
  • Smokes in a non-smoking unit, common area, or building
  • Keeps a pet in the unit when prohibited by the lease
  • Is late paying a utility or service charge that the tenant owes to the landlord
  • Fails to clean up pet waste from premises
  • Fails to clean up garbage, rubbish, or other waste from premises
  • Violates a parking rule or improperly uses vehicles on premises

Restrictions on how a landlord can charge noncompliance fees

The law around fees changed on January 1st, 2014, so if you haven’t looked up the statutes in a while, or didn’t know them to begin with, this might be helpful. The following restrictions on noncompliance fees are now in effect in Oregon.
  1. The landlord must first issue a written warning of the noncompliance violation before a assessing a fee. The warning must state the violation and what the fee will be if the tenant continues to violate the lease.
  2. If the tenant commits the same violation again within one year, the landlord may charge a $50 fee.
  3. For the third and all subsequent violations within one year, the landlord may charge $50 + 5% of the monthly rent payment.
  4. The landlord may terminate the tenancy for some violations, but may not terminate and assess a fee for the same noncompliance violation.
  5. The landlord may not deduct a fee from rent. A tenant who fails to pay a noncompliance fee cannot be evicted on a “nonpayment of rent” notice. A landlord cannot deduce a late fee or noncompliance fee from a rent payment and claim the tenant still owes rent. A rent check goes to pay rent.
  6. A landlord must assess the fee within 30 days. A landlord cannot claim that the tenant owes a fee older than one month unless he or she provides documentation that the tenant was notified and assessed the fee within one month of the violation.

Applicant Screening Fees

A landlord may charge a fee to screen an applicant/tenant only if the landlord gives written notice of (1) the amount of rent and deposits the landlord will require in the rental agreement and (2) information about the landlord’s screening criteria and screening process. More information about being Denied Housing is available on our website.

What is a screening?

Screening includes but is not limited to checking references and obtaining consumer credit reports or tenant screening reports.

Can I get a receipt for the screening fee?

Yes. The landlord must provide the applicant with a receipt for any applicant screening charge.

How much can the landlord charge for a screening fee?

The amount of any applicant screening charge cannot be greater than the landlord’s average actual cost of screening applicants. Actual costs may include the cost of using a tenant screening company or a consumer credit reporting agency, and may include the reasonable value of any time spent by the landlord or his/her agents in otherwise obtaining information on applicants. In any case, the applicant screening charge may not be greater that the customary amount charged by tenant screening companies or consumer credit reporting agencies for a comparable level of screening.

Can I get the screening fee back?

In most instances, a landlord may keep the screening fee even the landlord does enter into a rental agreement with that tenant. The landlord must refund the screening charge to the applicant within a reasonable time if the landlord fills the vacant rental before screening the applicant or if for any other reason the landlord does not actually conduct a screening of the applicant.

What if the landlord does not follow the law?

The the landlord fails to comply with the law regarding screening fees and also does not, within a reasonable time, accept the applicant’s application for a rental agreement, the applicant may recover from the landlord twice the amount of the screen charge plus $150. The tenant is also entitled to these damages if the landlord does not conduct a screening for any reason and does not refund the money within a reasonable time.

Late Rent Fees

A late rent fees can be charged any of three ways. Look at your rental agreement to see how your landlord is charging late fees. Regardless of how the landlord decides to charge a late rent fee, the fee amount must be specifically stated in the lease.
  1. Per-rental period late fee: a reasonable flat amount charged one time for the month the rent is late. “Reasonable” here means typical for the rental market. The fee amount must be specifically stated in the lease.
  2. Per-day late fee: a daily fee that cannot be more than 6% of the reasonable flat monthly rate fee described in #1 above. The fee amount must be specifically stated in the lease.
  3. A five-day period late fee: a fee that is 5% of the rent, charged once each five-day period the rent is late. The fee amount must specifically stated in the lease.

Lease Break Fees

For leases signed on or later than January 1st, 2010, a lease break fee may be charged in fixed term tenancies if written in the lease agreement but is limited to 1.5 times the monthly stated rent. If a lease break fee is assessed, a landlord cannot additionally recover any unpaid rent or recover damages relating to the cost of renting the dwelling unit to a new tenant. If there is no lease breaking fee in the written lease agreement, a tenant may be responsible for the remainder of the lease.

Bottom Line

The landlord must provide the applicant with a written list of all deposits, fees, and rent that are charged before the landlord enters into a new written contract agreement with an applicant or accepts any payment from an applicant. The landlord and applicant may agree to amend the written list before entering the lease agreement.
For the list to be incorporated into the written rental agreement, it must describe all of the fees that the landlord may charge.
A landlord must supply a receipt for any security deposit paid by the tenant.
Remember: A fee is a payment from a tenant that is not refundable. Landlords must give you a receipt for any and all fees.
Got more questions? We got more answers. Call or message us at the Renters’ Rights Hotline to learn your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.