Tips for Lowering Your Monthly Rent on Move-In

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For most people, it would be unthinkable to buy a car without negotiating at the dealership. Why, then, do so few people bother to negotiate their rent? Perhaps it’s because we think of our apartment rent in the same way we think of dinner out at a restaurant — the price is simply non-negotiable. Except sometimes, rent is negotiable … the trick is negotiating in the right way. But what’s the best way to go about it?

The answer depends on your specific situation: the city, the building, and even the time of year. First, we’ll look at some of the factors that determine how much work you’ll need to do to negotiate a better deal. Then we’ll explore some of the strategies other tenants used to successfully lower their rental payments and security deposits.

The Big Picture: Your City’s Housing Market — Before you decide how much of a rental break to ask for, consider the housing market in your city. In places like San Francisco and New York, the vacancy rate is extremely low. Landlords know that plenty of tenants are searching for apartments, so they have less of an incentive to negotiate with you about your rent. This doesn’t mean that a discussion about a rent decrease will be fruitless, but you’ll have to give the landlord an incentive to haggle with you. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, has much higher vacancy rates. A landlord in a city like this has to consider the possibility that an apartment might go unrented. Offering a discount to a tenant is preferable to having no tenant at all. The higher the vacancy rate in your city, the more bargaining power you’ll have with potential landlords.

Timing is Everything — Most landlords work on a predictable schedule, starting leases on the first day of the month. If your target move-in date is September 1, a landlord will be much more likely to negotiate on August 25 than August 3. Of course, many of the best apartments have been snatched up by the end of the month, but you never know what can happen. Potential renters back out at the last minute and current tenants decide to leave suddenly. It’s probably not worth waiting until the last minute in the hopes of snagging a good deal, but if you happen to be viewing apartments right before the new lease is set to begin, you’ll have significantly more leverage.

In cities that attract large numbers of college grads, time of year is important too. From June to September, recent grads look for long-term leases and current students on summer break come to town for internships. Having recently accepted job offers, many of them don’t have the time to comparison shop. This is the worst time of year to negotiate your rent. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find a recent college grad that doesn’t know or care that he or she is being overcharged.

Size Matters — Large apartment complexes are usually managed by multiple entities: the rental agent, the super, a management team and the actual owner, which might be yet another management company. It’s hard to know who (if anyone) can actually offer a rent decrease. Even extremely effective negotiators make little headway if they never get to meet with the person who has the authority to change the rent payment. With smaller buildings, it’s a different story. The landlord probably sets the rental rates and shows prospective tenants around the building. You’re far more likely to have success in a smaller building.

Strategies that Work

We spoke with landlords and tenants in buildings large and small and asked them to share stories of successful rent negotiations. Here are a few of the things that worked.

Do Your Research — If you live in a city swarming with newly minted college grads and young professionals willing to fork over half their monthly paycheck on the rent, you’ll have to work a bit harder to get that coveted rent decrease. The more information you have about the apartment complex and rental rates in similar buildings, the better. Before you meet with the landlord, try to determine how much current tenants are paying for similar apartments. If you know about a comparable building in the same neighborhood, do some comparison shopping to find instances of similar apartments being rented for less. Use these rental rates as the starting point for negotiations with potential landlords.

It’s Okay to Show Off — Make an effort to show the landlord that you’re a model tenant. If possible, contact old landlords and ask them to serve as references. You can even order a copy of your credit report and bring it to meetings with landlords. Nearly every landlord has a horror story about a tenant who behaved erratically, paid the rent late, or damaged the apartment. The more evidence you can show that you’re not that problem tenant, the better. Most landlords recognize that charging higher rent isn’t worth it if the tenant is unreliable or otherwise nuts.

Be Polite and Friendly — Trying to negotiate won’t do much good if your landlord thinks you’re acting pushy and entitled. Most landlords are looking for agreeable, affable people who won’t cause trouble. No matter how hard you bargain, it pays to stay pleasant. Annie, a 25-year-old teacher, took a tour of a small Los Angeles-area apartment with a landlord who said he was looking for “nice” tenants. She agreed to have tea with him and his wife after the tour. “I indulged him by listening to him talk about his theory of kindness and being a good human being,” she remembers. “After I said ‘uh huh’ about 50 times, he said that he thought that I seemed like a nice person.” When she raised the idea of reducing the rent by $40 a month, he told her, “I’ll cut you a deal.”

More than Money — Even the nicest landlords won’t budge unless you give them an incentive. Think about what you can offer your landlord (besides more money) that might make them willing to bargain with you. Many of the successful negotiators we spoke with saw an opportunity and took it. Here are some of the things they offered:

  • Genna, a 24-year old lab tech, negotiated a $50 monthly decrease in exchange for painting the peeling walls of her New York apartment herself.
  • Adam, a 31-year-old paralegal from Boston, lowered his monthly payment by $50 in exchange for shoveling snow from the steps and walkway. “The landlord was really old,” he remembers. “I figured it was worth a shot.”
  • Dave runs a computer consulting company out of his Brooklyn apartment. When the landlord of his 3-family townhouse mentioned that he wanted wireless Internet access, Dave offered the password to his own network, in exchange for a $60 monthly discount. “The funny thing is that he could have saved more money by doing it himself. I think he just liked the fact that I offered.”
  • While in college, Dan and his roommates knocked $400 off a $1,000 security deposit by re-tiling the sagging ceilings of their Providence, RI apartment themselves.
  • Allison, Rosie and Julie decided to be proactive when their prospective landlord mentioned that their apartment could use some work. “We asked him to reduce the rent and we told him that in return, us three lovely girls would decorate the apartment better that he could imagine.” He reduced their monthly rent by nearly $100. “We also convinced him that adding a dishwasher to the apartment would make the place more attractive to future prospective renters, so he bought and installed one for us!”

Each of these renters offered a service that the landlord clearly needed and used this as the starting point for a rent negotiation. It’s also important to note that in each of these cases, the building had 40 units or less and the renters dealt directly with the landlord, who had the final say on rental rates in his or her building.

The big apartment complexes we contacted all gave us the same story, saying that rents were determined by market rates and that rates were non-negotiable. The big guys may be more difficult to bargain with, but they’re not necessarily impossible. In some cases, it’s a matter of seeing an opportunity and taking it. One tenant told us about a successful rent negotiation for a three-bedroom apartment in a large, luxury complex on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I had seen other apartments in the complex before visiting the building with the rental agent,” said Alex, a 30-year-old medical resident. “The apartment they showed us was a mess — the floor needed to be re-tiled, the kitchen needed new appliances and the walls needed a coat of paint. I told the agent that this apartment just wasn’t up to their standards.” Alex and his roommates used the apartment’s poor condition to their advantage. “I told the agent that they could put off making their repairs for another year if they knocked $200 a month off of our rent. I didn’t actually expect them to go for it.” To his surprise, the complex representative called that night to accept his offer.

Negotiate the Terms of Your Lease for a Better Deal — Landlords want tenants who are reliable sources of income. They may be more willing to negotiate with you if you can help ensure that your income moves into their pockets as reliably as possible. Some ideas to propose include:

  • Paying the first few months’ rent at once in exchange for discounted rent.
  • Setting up automatic withdrawal from your bank account so that the rent payment always comes on time.
  • Signing a longer lease with a penalty for early departure. You may be able to negotiate a decrease based on the longer lease alone, or avoid a rent increase during your second year of tenancy.

Your New Lease is Negotiable Too — We spoke to plenty of people who didn’t try to negotiate a lower initial rent, but were able to talk their landlord out of raising the rent on a new lease. Negotiating your way out of an increase is much easier if you’ve paid your rent on time and kept the apartment in good condition. If you think the proposed increase is too much, tell your landlord you’re not sure you can afford the hike and you may have to look elsewhere. Then keep to your word. Shop around and let your landlord know about better deals you found in the area. It may not be worth it to your landlord to lose a reliable tenant for a relatively small jump in rent.

The tenants we spoke with seem to have had the best luck by simply being honest. Boris, a 51-year-old government worker sat down and wrote a letter to his long-time Washington, DC landlord after a proposed rent hike was announced. “I told him that I understood his position. Things were getting more expensive and that the rent needed to go up. I just said I thought it was going up by too much.” The landlord made an exception for Boris, cutting his rent hike by 75 percent.

It’s Worth a Shot

All successful negotiators had one thing in common: they made the effort to negotiate in the first place. Really, there’s not much to lose. Stay polite and professional and the worst thing you’ll hear is “no.”

Have you had success negotiating rent decreases? Have you tried any of the suggestions above and been turned down? Share your strategies and ideas in the comments section.

16 Responses to “Tips for Lowering Your Monthly Rent on Move-In”

  1. August 21, 2007 at 11:19 am, Guest said:

    I lived at my apartment for 6 months without any problems, until I saw that the rent was going up about $50 more a month. I went in to speak to a leasing consultant and let her know honestly that I couldn’t afford the increase. She kept my rent at the same price when I signed a new lease. No haggles no problems…If you are a problem free resident and you pay your rent a week before it’s due every month, your landlord will be more than helpful when you ask a favor of her or him.

    Reply

  2. August 21, 2007 at 1:58 pm, Guest said:

    Just returned home from trying to negotiate with my rental company (Equity) for a renewal on our lease. I thought I’d relate the experience, although I haven’t been very sucessful getting what I wanted. The whole time I stayed very friendly and agreeable, but the leasing agents became progressively more agressive and angry.

    My fiance and I have lived in our appartment for three years. Our rent has gone up $180.00 in that time. That’s an extra $2,160.00 a year. This is tough since I’m “topped out” at work, and haven’t even recieved a cost of living raise. I’m asking to renew the lease with out raising the rent this time.

    We’ve been exceptional renters, never late even by a day. We are quiet and professional, a sharp contrast to the tenents Equity began renting to, as soon as they took over the property. Equity signed a deal with several schools in the area and provides short term leases to the students of a nearby golf school, the student interns for the Walt Disney Company, and others. I figured, what with the noise, litter, trouble, and damage these new tenets were causing, I might have a bit of leverage to try to keep our rent from going up with this new lease.

    From the beginning I wasn’t allowed to speak with the Manager. I was told he was very busy in meetings, so I should come back the next week. When I returned on the day specified (after calling first to make sure the manager was there) I was again told he would be busy in meetings all day. The guy I originaly spoke to obviously felt badly when forced to lie. I remained pleasent, but persistant, asking when I could be certain to see tha manager. At that point the “bad cop” leasing agent came over and offered to take care of things for the first guy. What that meant was the Bad Cop sat me down and basically told me a bunch of lies about how much properties were going for in the area. I had researched this on the internet, but made the mistake of not bringing the paperwork with me. ****TIP*** Print out the prices you find on the internet and bring them with you! The Bad Cop wouldn’t meet my eyes, started a long story about the previous company that owned the property being crooked (a story that had nothing to do with what I was there to do- negotiate my lease), finally she said she would try to do me a HUGE favor by increasing my rent by only 2% instead of 5%. She wrote down some numbers on a small piece of paper which she didn’t show me, but I looked at anyway. They said, “Market $1,087” and some others. She walked into a back office. Since I am paying $1095 currently for my 2 bedroom, 2 bath, I figured, “Aha, I’m right at market value,” even though she was telling me she just rented my size appartment to some one for $1200 a month.

    When Bad Cop returned. She said they would allow me to renew at a 2% raise. She went into another speech about how lucky we were to be able to negotiate since negotiation wasn’t allowed in places like New York. I told her I’d think about it. I went home and printed out the price qoutes for our appartement complex and others in the area, none of them were anywhere near what they were asking us to pay, The Equity website lists our appartement at $1065 a month, a sixty dollar a month difference from what they want us to pay. I called Bad Cop back and asked very nicely (again) to set up an appointment to see the manager. She got very angry and told me she’d have him call me, then she hung up on me without taking my number. I called back, got the original, nice guy, and politely said I’d been cut off before I could leave my number. He said the phones had been acting up, and took my number to give to the manager.

    Not surprisingly, the manager hasn’t called me back.

    Reply

  3. September 13, 2007 at 7:36 am, Guest said:

    i am a first time renter and i want to make the best impression so that I am accepted what are some good tips

    Reply

  4. December 01, 2007 at 12:04 am, Guest said:

    Not always true. For some reason I have found that turn over is a “good” thing in apartments lately. My apartment complex charges $750.00 for a current resident to transfer into another apartment (this isnt a fee for a mid lease transfer, this is for any resident at any time….) However a new person off the street can move in for a mere $200.00, and $50.00 application fee. I was so baffeled I had to ask why the enormous fee for a current proven paying resident to change apartments and the answer was: Turn charge…. Imagine that? Dont you have to pay to turn an partment for a new tenant too? Please look over your lease carefully before you sign it. You might be moving in with the devil….and it will ultimately cost you in the long run.

    Reply

  5. January 10, 2008 at 8:33 pm, Guest said:

    i believe you just read an enormous lot…

    Reply

  6. April 06, 2008 at 1:47 pm, Guest said:

    I have worked in property management for years. The big companies like Equity and Archstone are unable to budge on rent prices. Due to fair housing laws and penalties, they cannot offer a discount to one person and not the next as the fines are astronomical. The times you are more likely to be able to negotiate with a company are upon renewal. Remain friendly and calm, and if you don’t get your way, don’t get mad, contact corporate. Make sure upon renewal explain you want to renew, you love living there but you don’t feel you should have to pay such an increase because example example example. Make sure your expamples aren’t personal, like its too far from work, but if theres alot of ongoing contrsuction around you that has made getting in and out of the community quite an ordeal or excessive noise that has been documented, things like that could help. Also, upon renewal if they don’t budge on price, mention the move in special of a nearby competitor and/or ask for something needed like a carpet cleaning, repaint, new appliances if needed.
    Good luck!

    Reply

  7. April 20, 2008 at 6:02 pm, Guest said:

    Hello
    I am moving from a 55+ active community(NOT) after 4 months of hell,The complex name is Portifino sr homes in Henderson,NV 89012. Upon move-in we found alot of mold,the urine (musty) smell was awful.We did not detect it until the windows were closed.Speaking of windows we are still awaiting replacement windows, the ones we have do not shut and with 45-60mph winds it has been cold ,sandy and uncalled for,I am fighting stage III breast cancer and I am disabled since 1995.
    We also have a 40yr old felon that moved in with his 61yrold mother a few months ago, that has been an uncomfortable feeling.Therre is also a 56yr old women that the police have been called out to our complex regarding her abusive ways at least 17 times. She was arrested two times and released, she is a alcholic and as the police stated “she is a burden to the tax payers”. She re mains on the property due to her friendship with the property manager, even after she was finally evicted.I do not want to forget she also stabbed her “husband”.
    So Please consider not moving to PORTIFINO sR. hOMES
    IT IS A HUGE MESS!!!!
    THANKYOU

    Reply

  8. July 10, 2008 at 12:35 pm, Guest said:

    Something that has ALWAYS worked for me. Take your renewal increase and multiply by your lease term.
    ($50 increase x 12 month lease = $600).

    Remind your management that it will cost them at least that (possible more) to turn the unit: paint, cleaning carpet (whether you clean it or not – they still have to), cleaning apartment, upgrading anything that should be done that you just lived with, new vinyl,etc. Also – remind them that for each day it takes them to turn and rerent the apartment they lose money (rent/days in month) and it generally takes a week to turn and rent – in a tight market! Not to mention that they pay utilities on the vacant unit as well.

    Apartment Managers LIVE by numbers, NOI and vacancy.

    Also – just keep fighting and document EVERYTHING.

    I’ve negotiated out of thousands of dollars in increases and only once had to take a $25 hike (that was originally $75).

    Now, the tough one is going in and asking for a $170 renewal DECREASE. wish me luck!

    Reply

  9. February 19, 2009 at 1:33 am, tom said:

    I came home recentley to find a notice in my mailbox stating that my rent was going up from $1160 a month to $1230 a month(a 6% increase).I took the advice of this website and typed a very nice letter explaining that due to the economy as well as falling rental rates in area that I couldnt afford the increase and may have to look elsewhere. I gave specific examples of apt in my area that were cheaper and offering special deals. My landlord responded with a new offer of $1195(only a 3% increase) and the best part is that it is a TWO YEAR LEASE, meaning that my rent will not go up next year! I want to thank this website for saving me a total of $840 over two years!

    Reply

  10. March 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm, BC said:

    In response to Sep 13, 2007: Landlords want to be certain that the tenant(s) will take care of their apartment, get along well with other neighbors, cause no problems, and most importantly, pay the rent on or before it’s due. To make a good impression, you can provide the landlord with copies of canceled checks for a previous lease, 3-4 recent paystubs, most recent credit report, a few references from previous landlords/neighbors/employer, and assure the landlord that you’re there to stay for a rather longer period.

    A successfull experience: At that time, we’d been staying at our apartment for almost 3 years. The new lease agreement indicated a rent raise of $36 (1yr) or $69 (2yr). In response, I wrote a letter to the management company emphasizing that we had been in the apartment for 3 years, always paid the rent before it’s due, and had a complaint from any neighbors. I proposed no rent increase for 2 additional years. The landlord agreed to extend the lease for another year with no increase. To show our appreciation, I followed up with a thank you letter.

    Reply

  11. May 03, 2009 at 11:29 am, Anonymous said:

    This has given me lots of helpful hints as I get ready to talk to my landlord about decreasing rent for my second year in my current condo.

    Reply

  12. June 02, 2009 at 4:57 pm, t said:

    This was very helpful! My family and I (husband 3 kids) are looking to move because our rent is increasing and we are barely getting by where we are being that the bills are so high…the place we are trying to relocate to would be the same price as our increase however, we know the area and crime rate and we are trying to see how we can negotiate a lower rent its asking 700 but we want to pay about 600-650. Do u think its possible?

    Reply

  13. July 09, 2009 at 4:53 pm, Celeste MCcain said:

    How much is rent for A two bedroom?How much is move in fees?

    Reply

  14. May 25, 2010 at 9:55 am, James said:

    You can rent a two bedroom apartment in downtown Manhattan for several thousand a month and a two bedroom apartment in downtown Detroit for a pack of cigarettes and a forty.

    Reply

  15. July 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm, Jose Jaimes said:

    Can you be charged for a full month’s rent if move in date isn’t till half way through the first month?

    Reply

  16. February 03, 2013 at 11:05 am, Equity are Crooks said:

    I read the post above about the guy who couldn’t get Equity to renew his rent without raising it. I lived on an Equity property for 4 years while attending law school. During that time, I got them to renew without raising my rent twice. I simply told them a sob story about how expensive my books are (which was actually true), and how the money I save for the year by not having to pay the additional rent would cover the cost of one or two books for me.

    The crooked part came at move-out, after 4 years of paying on time, no complaints about me, and only a few complaints from me, for work orders on the fridge and A/C unit. I got a letter in the form of a “move-out checklist”. At the very end, it said that I would be charged a $35 carpet cleaning fee no matter what, and gave the fee schedule for any other cleaning that they might be required to do. These charges would be against my security deposit. Despite being there for 4 years, there was VERY little wear and tear on anything, including the carpets (I barely used the living room, I watch TV and game on the PC from my bed). I checked my lease, it said nothing about a mandated $35 carpet cleaning fee. When I moved out, I cleaned everything to a polish (I even got a hair dye stain off the bathroom counter that my friend had caused, and she never got rid of like she promised; Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is amazing), and vacuumed the carpets until they literally looked just like the day I had moved in, minus the indents from the furniture. I then played the waiting game. After two weeks or so, I got a check from Equity for less than the full amount of my security deposit (surprise surprise). I called the office, and told the chick that I was never told what, exactly the money was held for. She ended up faxing me this long document, which outlined my entire history of charges and payments (rent), and simply had a summary of cleaning fees at the end for the amount withheld. I smiled to myself, and waited another two weeks. Florida has a statute that requires a landlord to send the former tenant a written explanation, using rather specific language, as to why they are withholding the the security deposit, and giving an itemized list. I wrote Equity a demand letter stating that I had patiently waited, that they had not complied with the statute, that I did not agree with their keeping nearly half of my security deposit, that the fax that I was sent was not an acceptable form of notice under the statute, and that I would be pursuing legal action, should the funds not be returned in a timely manner. I figured they’d fight it, and expected a letter from their lawyer pretty much saying “tough, come at us in court, then”. To my surprise, they capitulated, and I was sent a check for nearly the full amount of my remaining security deposit. The letter stated that about $30 was being kept to cover my last month’s water/sewage/trash bill. I figured that was fair enough, and let that slide, even though they did not claim it properly.

    The lesson to take away from this is to familiarize yourself with your state’s landlord-tenant laws! Hope this helps someone … And beware of Equity.

    Reply

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