FTC wants to hear from New Hampshire renters about junk fees, fraud

MANCHESTER, NH – Renters across the U.S. can weigh in to the Federal Trade Commission on abuses and fraud, the federal agency has announced.

The FTC is urging renters to report fraud related to their housing, using its online portal.

The agency put out the call Thursday after a recent forum in Atlanta with renters, renters’ advocates, and researchers to hear about issues affecting renters. “The FTC is committed to fighting abuses in the rental market. We heard from renters in Atlanta, and now we want to hear from you,” a news release from the agency said.

“They told us that the rise of institutional investors and corporate landlords since the financial crisis has contributed to rising rents, hidden junk fees, issues with online portals, and predatory lease-to-own schemes,” the FTC said.

New Hampshire has some of the fastest increasing rents in the country, much of that driving by low inventory. The median gross rent in the state in 2023 was $1,644, a 40% increase over 2018. That’s compared to 25% nationally. The median gross rent for a two-unit apartment was $1,764, a 36% increase. 

The FBI has warned over the past two years as rents rise and it becomes harder to find affordable rental housing increases, the number of reported scams has risen, too. Renters desperate to find a place to live are more likely to be defrauded or give in to fees and other requirements that in the past they would’ve bypassed, experts say.

Takeaways from the FTC’s meeting with renters and renter advocates in Atlanta:

Corporate landlords and junk fees are affecting affordability. Prices are rising, hidden and bogus fees are more common, and evictions are easier, the FTC found. “Some landlords even charge fees on paying rent through their mandatory payment portals,” according to the release. A proposed FTC rule would ban junk fees from landlords. “If a landlord is tacking on fees you didn’t know about or authorize, tell the FTC,” the release said.

Rent-to-own and equity skimming schemes are targeting people. Deceptive rent-to-own schemes purport to allow a renter to buy the property in installments, but don’t make it clear that the conditions “mean it’s nearly impossible for you to actually rent to own,” the FTC said. Another increasing issue is sale leaseback schemes that offer to buy a home for cash up front, then allow you to stay in it. What’s not clear, according to the agency, is bait-and-switch and other tactics can lead you to losing your cash or your home. If someone has offered you cash for your house, the FTC wants to hear about it.

Fees related to online portals for maintenance and utility billing. Landlords are increasingly requiring renters to use online portals to send maintenance requests. “While it looks like help is on the way, renters are often left with units in disrepair,” the agency said. Renters also reported on landlord shell companies that charge a “utility fee” on top of renters’ monthly bills.