If you're facing a rent increase, you're not alone. Rents have jumped nearly 30% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to housing-listing platform Zillow.1 If you hope to prevent your rent from soaring to those wallet-crushing levels, consider negotiating with your landlord.
Can you negotiate rent?
The short answer is yes. But negotiating rent isn't as simple as laying out your preferred rental terms and expecting your landlord to agree. Rent negotiation requires careful thought and preparation on the renter's part, as well as a willingness to compromise. With the right approach, it's possible to have a successful rent negotiation—and free up some cash each month.
How to negotiate rent
Whether you're trying to negotiate rent on a new place or ward off a hike on your current home, a few key steps and tips could help you reach your goal.
1. Do your research
Productive rent negotiators make a specific request and have persuasive data that could convince a landlord to agree to that request. "Come prepared with information about the local rental market and comparable properties," says Adie Kriegstein, a licensed real estate agent in New York City and founder of NYC Experience Team, a luxury real estate group.
She suggests using popular rental-listing platforms to review rental-price histories and availability where you live. That data could help you make a case for lowering your rent to fall in line with similar homes. If you find nearby listings that are a better deal because of additional amenities (such as a gym, a pool, or close public transportation access), highlighting their offerings might incentivize your landlord to consider a rent negotiation, rather than lose you to those more-appealing spaces.
2. Time it right
"The best time to negotiate is typically when your lease is up for renewal, as your landlord may be more willing to work with you in order to keep you as a tenant," says Kriegstein. For existing leases, local laws dictate how much advance notice landlords must give tenants about rent price changes, but 90 days is fairly standard, according to housing-listing platform Zillow.
Landlords typically ask renters to share their intention to stay or leave 45 to 60 days prior to the end of the lease, according to Kriegstein. So set a meeting with your landlord (and have all of your research and negotiating ducks in a row) right around the 60-day mark.
If instead you plan to negotiate rent on a new lease, you might have more luck getting a deal during the rental market's slower months, such as in the winter, says Kriegstein. Landlords might have a tougher time getting new tenants then and be more willing to meet your price.
3. Show what a great tenant you are
When you sit down with your landlord to negotiate rent, don't let the whole conversation focus solely on properties and numbers. Nick Disney, a real estate investor in San Antonio, Texas, who manages 47 properties, suggests current renters emphasize the ways they already protect their landlord's investment. "Show the landlord that you are taking good care of the property with pictures or video, or even by offering a walkthrough," Disney says. This is also a great time to mention how you consistently pay your rent on time.
For negotiations on new leases, you might offer pictures and videos of the last property you rented, as well as written letters from previous landlords who can vouch for you paying rent on time and treating the property well. You'd likely be asked anyway, but if not, you might also volunteer to share your credit score, if it's good, to prove you responsibly pay off your debts.
4. Consider a longer lease
Disney says offering to sign a longer lease could be a winning negotiating tactic for the renter because it keeps the landlord from having to prep the property for new tenants. If you're prepared to commit to the space for more than a year, offer to rent for longer for a reduced rent price.
5. Offer free labor
Landlords are on the hook for taking care of the properties they rent out, so offering to take some of the caretaking off their plate could help with rent negotiations. If you wouldn't mind mowing the lawn, tending to the garden, or taking care of fixups such as painting walls and cleaning rugs, your landlord might be willing to give you a lower rent in exchange for the work. But this might have a better shot at working in a small building or in a single-family rental vs. a large managed building, which already employs a maintenance team.
How to set the tone for a successful rent negotiation meeting
Let's say you have a solid case for your rent negotiation request—you know what you want to pay and how the local market supports your ask, and you can prove that you're a stellar tenant. It's still important to take the right, respectful approach to the negotiation conversation.
"Avoid making demands or ultimatums," Kriegstein says. "Instead, focus on finding common ground with your landlord and working together to find a solution that works for both parties."
And fight the urge to discuss rent over text or email. "Setting a time to meet with the landlord in person is a good idea to ensure thoughts are exchanged without misunderstanding of tone or meaning," explains Stacy Brown, director of technical training at Real Property Management, a single-family rental residence management franchise organization.
The pros and cons of negotiating rent
If you have a successful rent negotiation meeting, it's easy to see the pluses:
- You save money that you could direct to other expenses each month.
- Your rent request, if not fully met, might at least encourage your landlord to offer some other concession, such as a waived pet fee, reduced parking cost, or property fixups, to keep you as a tenant.
But there are potential cons to consider as well:
- With a reduced rent, the property owner might be more limited in investing in upgrades to the property, Brown points out.
- Entering rent negotiations could damage your relationship with your landlord if either party leaves the table feeling unheard.
- Any concessions you made during the rent-negotiation process—such as agreeing to a longer lease or offering to handle certain maintenance work—could come back to haunt you if your circumstances change. Perhaps you meet someone who wants you to move in with them or your job gets more demanding, leaving little time for making repairs.
- If you manage to avoid an increase this year, you might face a bigger rent spike the following year to catch you up to the market rate.