Healthy Living on a Budget

How to Negotiate a Break on Rent

The downward trend in rents has me thinking it's time to ask my apartment manager to reduce my rent.

It’s the first of the month, and you know what that means: The rent is due. But if the cost of your rent gives you sticker shock each month (as mine does), you may be able to get relief.

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a decline in rents in Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco and other major metro areas, as folks either leave city life for the less-dense suburbs or move because they can’t afford their existing rent. And although I don’t plan to abandon the D.C. area and return to the Michigan suburbs, the downward trend in rents has me thinking it’s time to start negotiating with my apartment manager.

Know your market. Before I moved to my most recent place in the summer of 2018, I tried to negotiate a lower rate with my old apartment manager. I liked where I was living, and I thought I had a good case for a break. I was never late with the rent, and management rarely heard from me unless it was a real emergency. (My electricity went out a couple of times during the winter, and I woke up without heat.) I was unsuccessful, however, in part because I didn’t research the rental market around me.

“Tenants should look around when their lease is up for renewal and see what rent prices are in comparable communities to get an idea of the market,” says Amy Hedgecock, owner of Fowler & Fowler Realtors, in High Point, N.C. Knowing the rates in your area will help you set realistic expectations when you ask for a break, or let you know if you’re already paying a below-market rate, she says.

If you’ve lost your job or encountered other financial difficulties, provide your landlord with as much documentation as you can to show why you deserve a break. For example, provide pay stubs to show your hours have been cut, or your unemployment benefits check if you’ve lost your job. You should also provide photos to show how well you’ve maintained your unit. Rent negotiations won’t go far if you’re always late paying your rent or don’t keep your apartment clean.

The type of landlord you have also matters. A large apartment management corporation may have more flexibility to lower your rent than a mom-and-pop landlord who relies on your rent to pay the mortgage and property taxes.

Tenants who are able to move when the lease is up have more leverage, Hedgecock says. Landlords typically don’t want to lose out on rent payments while they fix up the unit and find a new tenant.

Post-negotiation checklist. If your talks are successful, get everything in writing. All parties need to know how long the rent reduction will last and any other stipulations, such as an agreement to stay longer than your lease requires.

If your negotiations are unsuccessful, don’t pack up and leave if there’s still time on your lease. Breaking a lease could make it more difficult for you to find another apartment. If you’ve found cheaper apartments in your area, your best bet is to wait until your lease is up and then move.

In the event that unemployment or another financial crisis leaves you with no choice but to break your lease, tell your landlord you’re having money issues and need to move out. Then, clean the apartment and “sweep yourself out the door,” says Hedgecock. It will help the landlord turn over the apartment and make your departure more amicable.

Even though my last attempt at negotiations left a sour taste in my mouth, I’m going to give it another try when my lease is up for renewal next summer. I’ll research comparable rents in my area before I ask for a lower rate. My big landlord may not play ball, but nothing ventured means nothing gained.

Most Popular

Thinking of Buying an RV or Motor Home? Think Again!
personal finance

Thinking of Buying an RV or Motor Home? Think Again!

A Lemon Law attorney has some insights on the downsides of RV ownership you should think about before putting your money down and hitting the road.
May 16, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
May 17, 2021
2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator
Tax Breaks

2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator

See how much money you'll get in advance under the new child tax credit rules for 2021. Payments will start July 15.
May 17, 2021

Recommended

8 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund
Tax Breaks

8 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund

Since this year's tax deadline was pushed back to May 17, many people are just now filing their tax return. That means there are a lot of tax refunds …
May 10, 2021
11 Places That Will Pay You to Live There
real estate

11 Places That Will Pay You to Live There

Working remotely? You may want to check out these places that'll pay you to move there.
April 23, 2021
12 Cheapest Small Towns in America 2021
real estate

12 Cheapest Small Towns in America 2021

Affordable small towns aren't necessarily the best places to live for everyone, but each cheap small town on our list has its charms.
April 15, 2021
What You Need to Know about College 529 Savings Plans
529 Plans

What You Need to Know about College 529 Savings Plans

Do you know how much you’re able to contribute or what the funds could be used to pay for? How about how contributing affects your taxes? Check out th…
April 14, 2021