Real Estate

Zillow Ghosts My Questions

Rental Applications and Zillow and CA Civil Code (Part 2)

Zillow CEO Rich Barton said:  “Expedia and Zillow have become large businesses based on the fundamental belief consumers should be empowered with information.”  I agree so why do we have a problem? Short answer: Zillow says it is not responsible for what CA Civil Code 1950.6 says it must do.

 Why is Zillow non transparent and evades my queries?  It appears it is because the application fees paid by potential renters (over and over for the hundreds and hundreds of rentals )  go to Zillow not the landlord and that puts the burden of following CA Civil Code 1950.6 on Zillow which has no intention of following, (so they state).  Zillow says:  “We are not a landlord or an agent of the property,.”  Ok Zillow, we know you aren’t the landlord but have you revisited your website recently about how you act as tenant screener for the landlord or property manager?  Definitions can be debated when circular logic is used. Might there be others that define your actions as agent to the landlord? That’s a ‘yes’.

Zillow  does not give itemized receipts for the fee paid  and does not send the consumer/credit report when requested. Both  failures to act are against CA Civil Code requirements.  We can spend time  defining  what exactly you are in relation to the applicant  but let’s look at this from Rich Barton (Zillow CEO) in a letter to investors in November 2023: “Zillow is well positioned as a pay to play marketplace.” Pay to play..yes, we see it and know it.

That data point appears not to be reserved for sales alone.  In the application process as well as home sales there is a pay to play agenda.  Which is why, when I asked about the application fees paid to Zillow and the obligation of the fee collector (CA Civil Code) to provide detailed receipts and copy of consumer/credit report if asked by applicant, my query was ignored in replies from Rental Support at Zillow.   No answer as to who gets the application fees. I know it’s paid to Zillow because I paid it and their website  for rental managers confirm.  By definition and statute, Zillow owes me a copy of the credit/consumer report and a receipt of how the money was spent.

This is what we are talking about:

Provide application fee receipts

Applicants in California must receive an itemized receipt showing the screening fee and other costs included in the fee you charged (See Civil Code §1950.6(d) and (f)).

What is California Civil Code §1950.6?

The California Civil Code §1950.6 is one of the most important regulations of the residential application fees for California.

Provide a copy of consumer reports when requested

Applicants who pay a screening fee and make a request are entitled to a copy of the California tenant screening reports you pulled.

Yes. The application fee is profitable and reliable and repeatable and the renter must pay it to play the find a rental game. Pay to play.

Warning: Ok, Boomer Story Here

Back in my Stanford days I put a notice up on the board at Tressider Student Union for a room for rent in downtown Palo Alto.  Many, many responses followed. One guy comes over that afternoon – and in 5 minutes he noticed a book of poetry and asked if it was mine.  I said yes and that was all we needed to decide he’d be a fine housemate.  He was in Modern Thought and Literature grad school at Stanford and I just liked to read poetry.

And it all worked out. But nowadays we’d probably still be collecting background info.   I never asked where his money to pay rent would come from.

Fast forward from that time to tech start up time in Palo Alto when I rented out a bedroom with private bath in my house.  I read the responses  to my Craigslist post, they came over to meet me and look at the space. I heard a small part of their story, charged $100 deposit.  That’s how I  ended up with Paul who was then deciding if he wanted to put any more effort into his start-up or go to Yale Law where he had been accepted.  With hesitation he  decided to give it one more try for the startup and it’s good he did. You know him as the co-founder and  original CEO of Pinterest. .(Now, Chairman of the Board of Joby Aviation)

Another renter came in as “I just graduated from college, I’m 23. and got a job at a start up in Palo Alto.”   He left the start up in 3 months,  and with a few others  did his own thing and ended up being  bought by Zuckerberg.  The Addison Street house  got an article written about it as being “The Second Most Important Garage in Palo Alto.” The HP garage is the first.  (Imagine that and no application fees or massive intrusive checks into irrelevant background info. I’ve also rented the same way to visiting professors , NVIDIA consultants, Hoover Tower researchers, interns from the White House,  etc..


Renters Rights during application process (California)

Your right when renting in Calif:

A copy of your credit report from the person you pay the application fee to. You have a right to a copy of your credit/consumer report if you request it from the person you paid. Also, an itemized receipt is required to be given to you when you pay an application fee. (In other words, what did they spend your money on?). These are regulations from the CA Civil Code. Many do not know of these codes/requirements.

If you don’t or can’t get these items and you are dealing with Zillow, contact rentalapplications at zillow dot com

If you can’t get help there let the Commissioner of The CA Department of Real Estate know: Chika.Sunquist at

These items are not optional, they are codified. Here is the source of the requirements from landlord/property mgr to applicant:

CA Civil Code: 1950.6  (Renter’s Application Rights Outlined)
(d) The landlord or his or her agent shall provide, personally, or by mail, the applicant with a receipt for the fee paid by the applicant, which receipt shall itemize the out-of-pocket expenses and time spent by the landlord or his or her agent to obtain and process the information about the applicant.

(e) If the landlord or his or her agent does not perform a personal reference check or does not obtain a consumer credit report, the landlord or his or her agent shall return any amount of the screening fee that is not used for the purposes authorized by this section to the applicant.

(f) If an application screening fee has been paid by the applicant and if requested by the applicant, the landlord or his or her agent shall provide a copy of the consumer credit report to the applicant who is the subject of that report.

also see  .

Just a posting in Craigslist , a short bio and $100 got you into my place in downtown Palo Alto. I had amazing people and not one application or background check in 19 years.


Google tells us The Civil Code of California is a collection of statutes for the State of California. The code is made up of statutes which govern the  obligations and rights of persons within the jurisdiction of California.

How does one situation get so complex and chaotic and in my opinion, unfair? It happened when renting left mom and pop land and became the new profit center of the real estate world.

Before having found that quote, of pay to play it became obvious Zillow isn’t forthcoming about the application fees and does not want to disclose what it does because doing so puts Zillow in the position of explaining its non adherence to CA civil law. And having to provide copies of credit reports and an itemized receipt.

I wrote this story up already, this second one is in response to being ghosted and ignored  by Zillow as to queries I wanted answers to,   so click here and read: Zillow and Rental Application Fees






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