How to negotiate rent increase versus house improvements?
June 2, 2009 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I've got a month until a potential rent increase (lease renewal) and I need help negotiating with my landlord.

Our rent has gone up - not significantly, but enough - each time we've renewed our lease. We've been here about 2.5 years. Our rent was late once (honestly lost in the mail.) We have one of those rents that's under market value because we do most of the work; largely, this hasn't been a problem. I haven't minded trimming the hedges or filling in the mysteriously deep holes in the lawn or fixing the plumbing.

We love the apartment's inside - it's the right size for us, it has a room with built-in bookshelves, hardwood floors, etc - but the outside is another story. It's half aluminum siding, which desperately needs washing, and the top-most 3rd upper floor, which is where we live, is a painted disaster. It's old and there's heavy flaking in parts. It's got a decent amount of wood spindles/details and would require hand-painting. We're also feeling a bit wary about the roof. (Last year, in November, our landlord re-painted some of our ceiling, which I suspect was slightly water damaged.)

Secondarily, our income has gone down significantly in the last few months; we're not struggling, but rent went from being about 20% combined income to 40% of my income.

We don't really want to tell our landlord about our decreased income; there's no cheaper rents in safeish neighborhoods around, and where I live, I don't have to drive to work, which is saving us money.

So what I'm looking for is advice on how to negotiate not having a rent increase UNLESS something is done about the exterior of the house.
posted by cobaltnine to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't say where you are located. I think that plays a large role in what you can get.

You're in a weak position to dictate that cosmetic repairs be made since you are a renter.

If the rest of the buildings in your area are similar in condition, and your building and the surrounding properties are being rented close to 100%, I don't think you will have much of a chance to get what you want because the landlord will have an average property to rent with another tenant right behind you in line.

You could frame it as: We've lived here for nearly 3 years and wish to stay here. We will sign a 12 or 18 month lease if you do X--but don't give a number on rent. The landlord will likely counter with an increased rent; that's when you try to negotiate your rent figure. Then you can point out that you're willing to sign a longer lease, you do your own repairs without fuss, etc.

Good luck!
posted by FergieBelle at 9:23 AM on June 2, 2009

Well, since you are not interested in moving, and you really have nothing to offer on your side of the negotiation - then you need to bluff.

Contact the owner now, suggest that you are considering moving because... see what happens.
posted by Flood at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I have lived in an underpriced apartment for the past five years and get nervous every year that my landlord will jack up the rents and make my place unaffordable. What I do is send a friendly letter about two months in advance that says something like:

"Dear landlord: I've enjoyed living in your apartment and would like to renew my lease for another year. I understand that you must increase rents as upkeep and utilities costs rise, but I hope you'll keep the increase minimal so that I can afford to stay another year. We are happy to continue taking care of the yard in order to help keep your costs down. Would you consider a $25 (or whatever you think is reasonable/affordable) per month rent increase? Feel free to give me a call to discuss."

Usually my landlord just sends a new lease with the new rent I've suggested. Another option might be to sign a multi-year lease, which would keep you from being in the same place next year.
posted by jrichards at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, I'll add I'm in New Haven, and the landlord has two other vacant properties he's not hurrying to rent. He owns the house (and I think one or two others) outright.

My basic point is that I don't really see why I should have to pay more when he's not doing anything. Most importantly, the lack of a roof inspection makes me concerned, since I'd much rather he get that done before we, his top-floor renters, have to deal with a flood.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2009

Ah, the location info helps.

Tenant negotiations have no weight whatsoever unless you 1. have time to move and 2. the ability to move.

You are a bit late on this process, then! But it can be salvaged.

You should tell your landlord that, given the market, you are not willing to have a rent increase on this lease renewal: "I am fairly happy here but I do not find it worth an x% raise in the rent."

The cost to the landlord of losing one or two or three months rent whilst finding a new tenant is surely higher than the cost by not getting your rent raised by x percentage.

Your landlord will react either well or poorly to this! But it is worth doing. You can also ask about what he intends to do about the roof. But that is not necessarily your bargaining tactic. Finally, you certainly do not have to disclose any changes in your income. (THIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, I AM NOT A BROKER OR AN ATTORNEY, DISCLAIMER ETC. ETC.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:13 AM on June 2, 2009

Sigh: "surely higher than the LOSS INCURRED by not getting your rent raised"

English. Whatever!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:14 AM on June 2, 2009

My guess is that your complaint about the appearance of the exterior isn't going to cut any ice. Painting the exterior of the house is a huge hassle and/or a very expensive job--especially with the detailed features you describe. Undoubtedly the house would look nicer if it were clean and well-painted, and it's good for the physical integrity of the house in the long run to have a good paint job. But I suspect that your aesthetic objections are going to carry minimal weight in your landlord's decisionmaking.

The roof is a different question. Does it look like it's in bad shape from the outside? Did you notice any leaking or water before your landlord painted it? (Why would your LL know about water on your ceiling if you didn't, and you've been there for two years?) If you seriously think it's likely to be a problem, raise your concern and see what your LL does.

More than likely, your local area has laws requiring your LL to provide an environment free from leaks and other physical problems like that. There's nothing that requires your LL to make your place pretty on the outside.

My basic point is that I don't really see why I should have to pay more when he's not doing anything.

You may not have the whole picture, either. What's going on with the property taxes in your town? The insurance on the building? Maybe he's soaking you--or maybe his expenses are going up, too. I know insurance rates out where I am have gone way up, as a result of the stock market going south and insurance companies trying to recoup their losses.

My advice is: If you've been a good, reliable, responsible tenant, that's worth something in itself. You could tell your LL (without giving specifics) that your income has dropped a bit, you'd like to stay there, but a rent increase would be a hardship. Turning over a unit is a big hassle, too, so maybe he'd rather have you stay than go through the trouble of finding a new tenant.

Good luck going forward--I hope the income situation turns around soon, too.
posted by Sublimity at 5:33 PM on June 2, 2009

It's old and there's heavy flaking in parts.

For this, and the roof, you may want to see into what city code requirements exist.

But for your negotiation, you will probably have to choose between "low rent" and "upkeep" as far as what you can expect to get out of the landlord. Be adamant about one, and flexible on the other, and you'll be more likely to get partial satisfaction.
posted by dhartung at 9:34 PM on June 2, 2009

« Older Needs More RAM?   |   What books do people proselytize about? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.