Make my aparment better!
March 13, 2007 8:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I bargain with my landlord?

My lease is coming up, and I need to renew it. I'd like to use this opportunity to get some improvements done on the apartment. My rent's only going up $15 a month, though, so I don't really know how much I can ask for. Compounding the problem is the fact that my "landlord" is actually a large management company. I can ask for this by calling the maintenance hotline or including a letter with my next rent check.

Here's what I want done:
-Redo the kitchen (new floor and cabinets)
-Redo the bathroom (new floor and toilet)
-Repaint the (peeling) ceiling
-Fix the windows that don't close properly

So, how much can I reasonably expect to get done? What's the best way to ask for it? Any success stories getting stuff out of property management companies? It's worth noting that I'll almost definitely resign the lease even if these improvements don't get done.
posted by backseatpilot to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience with my (pretty freaking negligent) property management company, they only time they'll pay for improvements is when not addressing the problem is actively damaging the property. That means they'll pay for plumbers when there are leaks, or exterminators when there are rats, and not all that much else. We've got a plumber here right now, in fact! And huge holes in all our walls. Pretty great.

You may have a case for fixing the windows if you say that, for example, water is blowing in and messing up the paint. And if your toilet leaks, obviously they'll want to buy you a new one. Also, if they pay for water (as our PM does) and you think you want to get a more water-efficient toilet, they may go for that. You have to phrase everything in such a way that they're convinced that taking care of your problem will save them money in the long run. They don't give a crap if your paint is peeling. They'll fix it when they're showing the house to new people; they know you're more likely to stay than look for a new place over cosmetic issues.

Our lease is pretty explicit about what we're responsible for and what they're responsible for, as I'd imagine any decent lease would be. For example, we have to fix minor toilet troubles ourselves, and trim the trees, and if we don't like their refrigerator they're not responsible for buying us a new one. It may be the case that you're responsible for painting. I'm not actually sure if we are. But definitely look at your lease and see what you're supposed to do yourself.
posted by crinklebat at 8:31 PM on March 13, 2007

You might be able to get them to fix the windows. Windows that don't close properly seem like they might be a liability of some kind on the part of the landlord. Other than that... they probably won't care if YOU repaint the ceiling, but I doubt that they'd do it. I think the kitchen and bathroom are probably out of the question.

You're really not in a good position to bargain with them. They can probably guess that you're not willing to move because of these issues. Even if you were willing to move, they could probably replace you with someone else in the couple of months notice you'd likely have to give them.

That said, it can't hurt to ask, but don't expect too much, or anything.
posted by benign at 9:03 PM on March 13, 2007

You have to be willing to walk away in order to negotiate. The management company is only going to take you seriously if the deadline passes without you renewing the lease.

Otherwise, your only option is to ask nicely and to make a business case for the renovations. How is the company going to see a return on the thousands of dollars it would spend renovating your apartment? If you're willing to pay what the market rent would be on the apartment after it was renovated, this may be an easier case to make. Even then, talking yourself into a rent increase may be a jump too far for the management company.
posted by backupjesus at 9:04 PM on March 13, 2007

The two repairs on your list may be automatically covered under a lease's "habitability" requirement (working windows and non-peeling paint -- your landlord may be required by law to repaint peeling paint, especially if there's a chance it's lead paint). Does your lease say anything about this? If it doesn't, can you google "tenant rights" plus your city name to see what you can find?
posted by allterrainbrain at 9:15 PM on March 13, 2007

One of the only good things about when I was renting from a slumlord in Ypsilanti was that my lease had a clause that gave me the ability to take money off of my rent for improvements that I did (so long as I got approval first). Which mean that (because I was unemployed for a while), I went ahead and painted the cabinets and things like that and could take off the cost of materials and a reasonable amount of labor.
While I haven't had that clause anywhere else, I'd probably call my landlord and ask 'em about it. At the very least, they'd get the idea that there was something wrong.
posted by klangklangston at 9:19 PM on March 13, 2007

allterrainbrain has it right. Depending on where you live, you will have different rights as a tenent and depending on your financial situation, you might be able to contact a legal services bureau in the area to help you find out what your rights are. If you live in a fairly progressive part of the country, there will be solid laws that will allow you to stay in possession of the apartment while you negotiate this stuff. If you live in Arkansas, they can send the police to arrest you if you don't pay rent.

Before you start negotiating, know your rights so you can bargain from a position of strength.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:21 PM on March 13, 2007

I have been a handyman, working for landlords for 15 years.

You probably won't get a toilet, floors or cabinets, unless they are falling apart or broken. The management co. will have to ask the owner about that and most owners believe that if it's not broken, it doesn't need fixing. It won't have much to do with your renewal status. You can ask for everything, it's probably better to call maintenance first about the windows and paint, those are safety issues.
Then you can call and ask the property manager about the rest.

When the guy is out to fix the windows, ask him about the rest. He can tell you what the chances are for sure.

It doesn't have much to do with renewing your lease. If you threaten to leave, they will probably let you.
posted by lee at 9:40 PM on March 13, 2007

My managment co. waited for THREE days for permission to replace carpet that was marinating in a half inch of rain water before they did ANYTHING. You aren't getting new cabinets or a new floor just because. They'll wait until you move when they can raise the rent a couple hundred bucks on your apt. to pay for those improvements.
posted by clh at 9:57 PM on March 13, 2007

AS a homeowner who has done a lot of renovations, I can estimate your requests would cost anywhere from $2500 to $6000, depending on the finishings. Even if you pay $2500 a month (in which case I'd imagine the renos would be at the high end), the landlord would be better to have you leave and risk running and ad and finding a new tenant, than s/he would to spend the $6k. If you pay, say, $1000 a month and it would cost $2500 to do the renovations, again, it would be better to risk losing you. In fact, the landlord may be able to rent out your apartment for even more.

If you've been a very long-term tenant, you *may* have some bargaining room. But I wouldn't count on it. You do have an excellent shot at getting the windows, toilet and ceiling repaired -- but probably not replaced.
posted by acoutu at 10:00 PM on March 13, 2007

Depending on how much you want these improvements (which, of course, depends how long you see yourself living there), you might consider offering to pay for a proportion of the costs.
posted by robcorr at 11:14 PM on March 13, 2007

Effectively, you will end up paying part of the costs -- either directly or in a negotiated rent increase. I think you should present the two repairs as a forgone conclusion because they are so basic ("Before I renew, let's take care of the windows and the peeling paint") whereas the renovations are in a totally different league. I think if you presented the list like you have it -- in the order you have it -- you might not even get to the third item before they start saying no way...
posted by sparrows at 12:07 AM on March 14, 2007

To put it another way, imagine certain kitchen & bath renovations getting done and imagine what increases in rent each of them would be worth to you. If you have some thought put into this beforehand, you'll be in a better position to negotiate with the mgmt company. If you would only re-sign the lease with about the same rent, it's probably unrealistic to get majr renovations done. The other point is to think about what you're willing to put up with in terms of disruption of your own life, and how much money you would effectively lose from not being anle to live there a certain block of time (renovations often can't be done with you living there -- especially if they're tearing up the floor).
posted by sparrows at 12:12 AM on March 14, 2007

Repairs should be done, and your landlord must do them.

Upgrades, not so much. Decide how badly you want the improvements, and if you are willing to do any work or help pay. IAAL(just for he other apt in my 2 family) and would pay for materials for some upgrades if my tenant did the work. If the tenant was known to be competent.

Cost out your selections and make a proposal to the landlord with pictures of the horrible old stuff and pictures of your choices, etc. Then have a plan B - just new fronts on cabinets, or a new toilet fixture. Flooring in a bathroom shouldn't be expensive. Make it very easy for the landlord to say yes and you might be lucky.
posted by theora55 at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2007

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