Move-In Fees as a Residential Sorting Mechanism Within Online Rental Markets

Published in Cityscape, 2023

Recommended citation: Stewart, R., Hess, C., Kennedy, I., & Crowder, K. (2023). Move-In Fees as a Residential Sorting Mechanism Within Online Rental Markets. Cityscape, 25(1), 239-252.

An increasing number of American renters within major metropolitan housing markets rely on online platforms such as Craigslist to find rental units. Landlords that advertise rentals on these websites have been found to tailor the language used in their listings in reference to surrounding neighborhood demographics to influence prospective tenants’ rental searches. This work investigates the underexplored subject of move-in fees, referring to upfront costs to secure a lease, such as security deposits, application charges, and advanced rent payments that can affect whether a prospective renter can afford an advertised unit. This study advances a framework for how housing researchers can assess variations in landlord discourse within online housing marketplaces using text analysis methods and web scraping. It then illustrates how the resulting measures about move-in fees have distinct variations in prevalence along sociodemographic, spatial, and policy measures through a series of descriptive analyses, with subsequent conclusions toward policy implications designed to assist low-income renters with overcoming financial barriers in securing rental housing.