New results from Zillow's Consumer Housing Trends Report show renters of color typically submit more applications -- and pay more in application fees -- before they secure a place to live than white renters do. Renters of color also typically pay a higher security deposit when they move in.
The U.S. rental market is as competitive as it's been in decades, with the national vacancy rate lower than at any time since 1984. Rent prices have skyrocketed, up a record 17% in just the past year, prompting some priced-out renters to look for a more affordable home when their lease expires. About 9 in 10 renters paid a security deposit last year, with the typical deposit coming in at $700. A higher share of renters of color paid a deposit (93%) than white renters (85%), and the median amount paid by renters of color was higher, too -- $750, compared to $600.
"Rents grew more last year than any year on record, forcing many renters to look for a more affordable option. About 2 in 5 renters who moved in the past year said a rent hike influenced their decision to move," said Manny Garcia, population scientist at Zillow. "Renters typically do not have much of a financial cushion, and the cost of finding a new place to live can be an expensive burden. Regrettably, renters of color are especially likely to experience rising rents, and when they shop for a new rental, generally report higher upfront costs, restricting the mobility that is often held up as a benefit of renting."
A $750 security deposit represents a significant amount of a typical renter's wealth. Zillow's research indicates a typical renter holds $3,400 total across savings, checking, retirement and investment accounts. More than one-third (38%) of renters surveyed say they couldn't cover an unexpected expense of $1,000.
In addition to facing higher and more frequent security deposits, renters of color report submitting more applications and paying higher fees for those applications than white renters. In 2021, 61% of all renters applied for two or more properties -- an 11-point increase from 2019 and five points higher than in 2020, likely owing to the tight rental market. The typical white or Asian American and Pacific Islander renter submits two applications, while a Black or Latin renter typically submits three. More than one-third of renters of color submit five or more applications during their home search: that's true of 38% of Black and Latin renters, 33% of Asian American and Pacific Islander renters, and only 21% of white renters.
With a median rental application fee of $50, the cost can add up quickly if renters need to apply for several properties. The burden is often greater for renters of color, who report paying a higher median application fee than white renters, on top of usually needing to apply to more rentals. Among renters who paid an application fee for the home they rent, the typical white renter reports paying $50, while a typical Black renter paid $65, a typical Latin renter paid $80 and a typical Asian American and Pacific Islander renter paid $100.
The higher fees and number of applications for renters of color are likely partially attributable to their age, income and geography. The typical renter of color is two years younger than the median white renter, meaning two fewer years of potential income growth. White renters are also more likely to rent in rural markets and the Midwest, both of which are generally less expensive. Asian American and Pacific Islander and Latin renters, in particular, are more likely to rent in the West, which includes many of the country's most expensive and competitive rental markets.
Expanding access to credit could help improve outcomes for Black and Latin renters. Nearly half of white renters (46%) say they were completely certain they would qualify for a rental, compared to 38% of Latin renters and 34% of Black renters. Credit checks are part of many rental applications, and Black and Latin adults are more prone to being credit invisible and more often live in counties with higher levels of credit insecurity.
Renters looking to reign in application fees may have options. For a flat $29 fee, renters can use Zillow's online rental application to apply through Zillow for an unlimited number of participating properties within 30 days. The online application includes a credit report and background check, which saves landlords time while screening prospective tenants and provides them with the information needed to feel confident about each applicant. Renters can also offer additional context and explain any negative items on their rental and credit history.