Anyone who has been a renter or a housing provider the past few years will tell you it’s been a roller coaster, from pandemic-driven trends driving people to relocate to skyrocketing rents as people returned to some sort of work norms. While there are some early signs that rents are cooling, typical rents were just shy of $2,000 a month as of December 2022 — nearly $500 more when compared to rents at the end of 2019. We’ve reached a point in some cities where it could take four roommates all working full-time on minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Affordability challenges don’t just make it hard for renters; it also creates headaches for property managers and landlords as they try to keep their units filled and navigate an ever-changing rental market.
The White House recently released a framework to begin to tackle the issue of rental affordability across the country. This is a great start, but it will take policymakers and the real estate industry working together to deliver resources and tools to help the rental industry work better for everyone, housing providers and renters alike. That work will include what we do here at Zillow, and we’ve long prioritized building products that create ease and transparency in the rental market. Here are just a few of the things Zillow has built to improve the rental experience for all:
We offer both renters and housing providers an easy-to-use online application process, which allows participating housing providers a simplified way to screen tenants and provides renters a single form they can use to apply to as many participating properties on Zillow as they’d like over 30 days for a flat fee. This saves consumers both precious time and hundreds of dollars. Research has found that most renters pay at least $50 — or more — for an application, and renters of color submit more applications and pay even more than others. Additionally, our universal application feature offers just a “soft” credit pull, giving housing providers an easy tool to check creditworthiness while protecting renters from having their own credit score impacted by just applying to an apartment.
Fair housing resources
Rental listings on our platforms display available local legal protections, including source of income and LGBTQ+ antidiscrimination laws. These protections are clearly displayed, ensuring renters know their rights in communities where they are searching. Especially given these affordability constraints, it is crucial families using alternative sources of income, such as housing choice vouchers, are able to find a great home, free from discrimination. This also helps housing providers better understand their legal obligations as landlords.
Tenant screening and antidiscrimination tools
Zillow leverages technology to screen new rentals listings and filter for discriminatory content based not only on federal fair housing laws, but also on state and local protections, including source of income and other antidiscrimination laws, as applicable. Recognizing rules and laws are always changing, this feature makes it easier for property managers to list their properties in compliance with local fair housing laws.
Acknowledging higher rents can have an impact on homelessness, Zillow launched a partnership with Housing Connector, a Seattle-based organization which works with landlords to waive or reduce screening criteria and connects clients experiencing homelessness to rental housing that is available and affordable. This Zillow-powered program has created a landlord network of over 73,000 rental units, securing housing for close to 4,000 people since launching in 2020, and will continue to expand in 2023.
Helping renters unlock life’s next chapter
Many renters dream of homeownership, and at Zillow we’re working to make this a reality. We display down payment assistance information on every eligible for-sale home listing on our site. Over 1.5 million shoppers have used this tool as they try to figure out how to overcome what is often the biggest hurdle to owning a home: affording a down payment. We also launched a first-of-its-kind feature for veterans that allows them to search for condos that accept Veterans Affairs loans, unlocking more affordable homeownership options for those who served our country.
The road ahead
There is much more to be done. We are exploring other features, such as how to make it possible to list and rent out a single room or expand the inventory of income-restricted buildings on our platform, to bring more affordable housing options to light for consumers. And, we are committed to building finance tools to help anyone prepare to navigate real estate and take on life’s next chapter. We strongly support policies and features that make it easier for renters to build credit through timely rental payments and to have their rental payment history taken into account in the mortgage underwriting process for when they are ready for homeownership.
Zillow is committed to continuing the development of innovative products and supporting policies designed to create ease and transparency in the rentals market. We look forward to partnering with the White House on both renter protection measures and affordable housing supply policies. Ultimately, the best renter protections come in the form of an abundant supply of affordable rental housing, which is seen by consumers and experts as key to creating affordability. Zillow is a household name, and we take the position of our brand seriously. Our products, advocacy and vision break down barriers in real estate, and will continue to do so, creating a pro-consumer market that is fairer and more accessible for all.
Visit Zillow Research’s fair housing information center for more, and find resources in our renter’s resource center.