Rental runaround? What you need to know about application fees and background checks

Finding an apartment in Southwest Florida can be extremely challenging. Inventory is low and rent is high. But one man’s struggle to find a place to live is exposing a potential problem you need to know about.

WINK News investigative reporter Celine McArthur investigates if this is a rental runaround.

If you’re on the apartment hunt, you’re probably scrolling through rental websites, searching for something in your area and price range. When you find one that works for you, you may jump right to the online application so you can get in before it’s gone. That’s what a restaurant worker in Naples did, and it didn’t end well.

Rosendo Ruiz, 36, is a cook at Brooks Burgers in Naples. He’s worked in the kitchen for eight years.

“I have my family here,” Ruiz explained. “I got my friends in. I like my place for work.”

So, his boss Todd Brooks was disappointed when Ruiz said he was leaving.

“One of my best cooks, here at this restaurant came to me and said, Todd, I don’t think I can work for you anymore,” Brooks said.

Ruiz went to his boss and told him he’s about to be homeless. His landlord’s selling and he can’t find another apartment.

It’s a housing issue that’s butchering Brooks’ staff.

“Five out of like 15 of our seasonal workers call us and tell us they’re not coming back. And specifically, they said, there is no housing. They said we can’t do it,” says Brooks. “And that’s where I was like, Well, hold on, hold on, hold on, let me see what we can do to help you.”

That’s when Brooks discovered something suspicious.

“He had already spent, like $1,000 in application fees going around trying to find a place,” says Brooks. “And I said ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘every time I go in, they ask for money.'”

“When I go to the place they say okay, your application is approved, but you’re on a waitlist,” says Ruiz.” He adds, “They are like saying 20 or 100 people on the waitlist, but they did not tell me when we first applied.”

Ruiz says that happened here at The Point at Naples. On October 16th, he paid West Shore LLC, the owners of the apartment complex, $333.57 For a background check and application fee. Days later, he found out he didn’t get the place.

“They say, ‘Oh, the apartment is rented. But we have one more,'” says Ruiz. When he told him he wanted the other unit in the complex, Ruiz says they made him apply again.
A week later, West Shore LLC charged him $331.95 for another background check and application fee. That time, Ruiz says he got turned down because he didn’t qualify. So he’s out $665.52 in fees for just this one apartment complex.

“He’s got an entire week’s paycheck that he is handed over to property managers.,” says Brooks.

I went to the complex to get some answers. The staff wouldn’t talk, and refused to give me their manager’s full name and contact information. I then reached out to West Shore LLC in Boston.

Minutes after my call, nearly half of Ruiz’s money was refunded. The rest was returned the next morning. The company wouldn’t talk about Ruiz’s case for privacy reasons. They also wouldn’t tell us how they handle applications when there are multiple people vying for the same unit.

RE/MAX real estate agent and property manager Melanie Listrom doesn’t represent Ruiz or The Point at Naples, but I asked her to weigh in.

“That shouldn’t happen, because they shouldn’t take applications if it’s not available. You know, that’s almost bait and switch,” says Listrom.

She doesn’t know what happened here but claims some property managers don’t always do the work they charge you for.

“Sometimes they’ll take an application, they’re not even running it,” says Listrom. “They’re just taking the application leaving it sit there.”

Brooks found Ruiz an apartment and secured it for him, by co-signing the lease.

“It’s hard enough to find good people much less if you lose your good people, then you’re really in trouble,” says Brooks. “So, it’s part business decision, and part, because in the restaurant industry. And I think I speak for most restaurants, they look at their employees as family.”

“I was so happy,” says Ruiz. “And I told my wife we have a place to live in.”

Before you apply, ask questions. Is the unit available? How many people have applied? Is there a waiting list for that unit? And if you’re wondering if they did the background check, you can ask for proof.

If there’s something you want me to investigate, email me at [email protected]

Reporter:Céline McArthur
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