Your landlord wants to increase your rent. You don’t want to throw all your money away. Here’s how to fight it. Check out this video for a visual aid.
Why would my landlord increase my rent?
You have lived in apartment for a full lease term - typically 12 months - and the lease is coming to an end. If you like the place, you’re going to want to stay there. Your landlord may have had you sign the lease at a good price, knowing that a year later you’ll want to stay, and then will increase the rent.
When is a rent increase illegal?
During an active lease term
You probably live in unregulated housing, aka, you don’t live in rent stabilized or rent controlled housing. If that’s the case, there are very few laws that control how much your landlord can increase your rent. However, there is one thing that protects you: Your landlord can only increase your rent when a lease term is over. Unless you signed a lease which says your landlord can increase the rent at any time (another reason why it’s extremely important to read and understand your lease before you sign it), your landlord can’t raise the rent until the lease is up. States also have laws dictating how much notice a landlord needs to give you before they increase the rent.
A federal law called the Fair Housing Act protects renters across the country from discriminatory rent increases. This law protects renters and home buyers from discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability status, and age. Some states have added supplemental laws, protecting their residents based on more qualities. Twenty-three states have laws protecting renters from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Five states have laws protecting renters from discrimination based on an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, and domestic violence victims are offered extra protections in four states. The Policy Surveillance Program created a helpful interactive map to see which protections your state’s law offers. If you have reason to believe your landlord is increasing your rent to discriminate against you, the rent increase may be illegal.
The Fair Housing Act also protects renters from retaliatory rent increases, or rent increases that are made in an attempt to force you to move out. If you make a valid complaint about the habitability of your home and your landlord tries to increase the rent to get you to leave so they don’t have to correct the issue, they are breaking the law. Research your state habitability law to see if this applies to you. You may be able to sue for damages, as a retaliatory rent increase is a form of illegal eviction.
How can I prepare for a rent increase negotiation?
Your best defense in this situation is knowledge. Research is your friend. You should look into a few things.
The rent history of your unit
In New York, you can find the rent price history for your building going all the way back to 1984. This information is self-reported by landlords, so it may not exist for your unit, but it’s worth looking into. If you get this information and see that your landlord is asking you to pay a significant amount more than they have ever charged for your unit, that will be helpful in negotiation.
Talk to your neighbors
If you know your neighbors at all, talking to them can be helpful, especially if their unit is similar to yours which is likely. Ask them what they pay for rent, and if they’ve ever had their rent increased. Knowing what your landlord is charging for units similar to yours will be useful in negotiating.
Rent prices in your neighborhood
Look at apartments similar to yours on the internet to see what other people are paying. Check listings on Caretaker. If your landlord is asking you to pay far more than you could pay down the street for an apartment with similar layout and amenities, you can use that as a negotiating point.
Things affecting the real estate market
It’s easy to find statistics about rental vacancies in your neighborhood online. Research this and think about anything else happening locally that may affect demand in your neighborhood. For example, in New York City, tenants were expecting the L train to close for two years, which was going to have a massive effect on rent prices in the area. The governor recently announced that the L train will not close. This could easily be used in negotiation, as landlords who were expecting increased demand for their apartments are now not going to experience that.
Hype yourself up
Think of anything you have ever done that makes you a good tenant. Your landlord has likely dealt with some less-than-ideal tenants. If you’ve always paid the rent on time, you’re probably better than other people they’ve rented to. If you know your neighbors have never complained about any noise coming from your unit, leverage that. Even if you’ve always just been an acceptable tenant, you can use that to your advantage.
What if my landlord won’t budge?
Even if your landlord is firm on the price, you can negotiate other things.
Ask to extend your lease
Knowing that your landlord won’t be able to increase the rent during a lease term, ask them if they’d let you sign a longer lease. The standard lease is 12 months long - consider asking for a two-year lease. If you’re confident you’d like to stay in that unit for awhile, this can lock in your rent and prevent further increases. If you live in a state - like New York or Illinois - where the law is very friendly to subletting, you’ll likely be able to sublet if you decide to leave before the longer lease is over. Caretaker also makes it easy to get out of your lease with Caretaker Instant.
Ask your landlord to fix something in your unit
If there’s something you don’t like about your apartment, consider petitioning your landlord to fix it in exchange for you paying the higher rent. Maybe the water pressure in your shower is bad, or your old windows make the street noise loud, or you want to have a garden - mention these things and request that your landlord take care of them for you.
Is this going to work?
The likelihood of this working will depend on a few things. If you have a relationship with your landlord, it will be easier to pull this off. If your landlord is a big property management company and you’ve never had an in-person conversation with them, it will be more difficult. The best way to make sure this happens is to be a good tenant. Tenants are constantly making mistakes that annoy their landlords without even realizing it - we’ve listed some of the most common for you. The simplest way to get on your landlord’s good side is to pay your rent on time and how they want it to be paid.
If your landlord demands rent be paid by check, consider using Caretaker’s rent payment feature. You can connect a bank account or even a credit card and Caretaker will send a paper check to your landlord. Your rent is guaranteed to arrive on time, and you’ll never have to order checks again. Because who uses checks anymore? And paying rent with Venmo and PayPal isn’t that safe.
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