Lifestyle Real Estate

How to Negotiate Down Your Rent

Top agents share tips for talking down your monthly rent.
Photography by RawPixel

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With rents on the rise and a growing number of millennials forgoing home ownership, it can truly pay to know how to properly negotiate a lease before you sign one. But what to do when it comes time to sign along the dotted line and you’re convinced that the rent is, well, just too darn high?

Fret not, renter friends, we’re here to help. We reached out to a few of the best brokers in the game for advice on how to approach your landlord about your concerns and they had lots to share. So read ahead as we break down the right way to negotiate your rent.

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Do Your Homework

The first step in any successful negotiation with your landlord is being able to establish a fair market value for the apartment, and more importantly, having the receipts to back it up.

“When negotiating on rent, it’s important that the landlord is aware that the tenant understands the market,” says agent Alexander Boriskin of Douglas Elliman.

“Research the price history of the apartment you are interested in as well as the vacancy rate of the building,” says agent Kevin Djungu Sungu of Warburg Realty. “Prospective tenants should know the comps and compare prices of other apartments in the area to see which each has to offer.”

Photography by Roberto Delgado Webb

Once you’re familiar with the cost of rentals in the neighborhood—and what they have to offer—you can use the building’s vacancy rate (and the number of days the apartment has been on the market) to your advantage if you feel the price is too high.

“The only reason an apartment on the market would not rent fast is the price, adds Sungu, “Be aware that the landlord is losing money every day the apartment isn’t being rented.”

Researching the property beforehand will also provide insight into the price history of the apartment (aka what other people have paid previously), and often reveals helpful tidbits like the best time of year to save money on your monthly rent.

“Negotiating power can be on your side during the late fall through winter months and this goes for those currently renting and those looking to rent. Explains Corcoran salesperson David Delaney, “Fewer people move due to holiday travel and colder inclement weather so the odds are in your favor with getting a ‘deal.’”

“Once the owner can clearly see the tenant understands the market, it makes for a very different conversation,” adds Boriskin “And a sure way to convey that message is backing up your argument with data before you ask for a discount.”

Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Identify Your Concerns

Along with the obvious perk of being able to save money every month, being able to identify and discuss facts and data with your landlord relative to why the rent is too high can help you open up communication lines, and ultimately build a better relationship in the long run.

But first, you have to determine what elements of the rental make contesting the price worthwhile or worth your efforts.

“Units facing the interior of the building or a top floor unit of a non-elevator building are often grounds for a price negotiation,” says Delaney.

Photography by photo by Fernando Rodrigues

This means that if you are able to pinpoint specific issues with the apartment—think: an outdated kitchen, tub-less bathroom, or a crummy view—then you’ll likely have a greater chance of scoring a discount on your rent.

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

“In my experience, rent negotiations are only successful when the apartment is less desirable,” says agent Brandon Major of Warburg Realty. “If it’s been sitting on the market for more than three weeks, then you should without hesitation offer a rent $100 lower. There’s a good chance that even if they don’t accept, they’ll counter with $50 less.”

Ask Questions

In addition to identifying your concerns, it’s important to know what kinds of questions to ask your landlord about the apartment to figure out if there are any unforeseen issues that may affect your quality of life.

“My number one question to ask is always: “Where is the super located?’” Major explains, “Especially if it’s a prewar building.”

You should also ask plenty of questions about upcoming renovations—both in your apartment and the building—as well as other buildings in the neighborhood; since waking up to construction noise, day after day, can be grating.

“Confirm whether the building or a nearby building is about to undergo any major renovations,” says Corcoran agent Beth Benalloul, “because that would surely be difficult to live through.”

Photography by Nicolas J Leclercq

Lastly, if you’re a pet owner, make sure you are clear on the building’s pet policy before you negotiate the price of your rent because it could wind up costing you in the long run.

“If, say, dogs aren’t allowed per your lease and it comes to light later that you have one, it could be grounds for eviction,” adds Benalloul. “Or at least cost you your deposit and the hope for a reduced rental rate.”

Negotiate Tactfully

Now that you’ve done your research and asked all the right questions, it’s time to negotiate your rent with your landlord—albeit with tact and grace.

“The first thing a leasee must understand is that for some landlords, psychologically speaking, leasing their home to a complete stranger is a big deal,” explains Corcoran agent Justine Lee-Mills. “Coming at them with a lower rent will most likely put a bad taste in the landlord’s mouth and cost you the deal. So it’s important for the tenant to look for ways to gain the respect of the landlord; without agreeing to every single thing that they want.”

And along with taking care to stay on your landlord’s good side while negotiating, you should also be sure that you come to the table totally prepared—with documents and data—to bolster your case without coming off as difficult.

Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

“If you want to negotiate but get favorable terms, you need to come in strong, but collected,” says Benalloul. “Have all your ducks in a row in terms of paperwork, including a previous landlord letter, recent credit report, bank statements, and employment verification letter. If you come to the table with this along with your offer, I think the landlord will be much more likely to negotiate off the bat.”

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

Know How to Bargain

When negotiating your rent with your landlord, it helps to know what kinds of things you can do on your end to potentially lower your monthly rent.

“There is a myriad of other factors that one can use to get more preferential terms,” Lee-Mills says. “Think about things that will make the landlord’s life easier, like offering to keep the front patio swept throughout the length of your lease, or taking on a longer lease term so that the landlord has less vacancy in the building, contributing to the front planters with flowers of your own to beautify the building.”

Ask your landlord if there are any improvements that you can make on the apartment—updating fixtures, painting, and other renter-friendly decorating options that might persuade your landlord to agree to a reduction in your rent.

Photography by Codu Guilfoyle

If you’re able to afford it, you can also see if paying for multiple months of rent in advance can help earn you a preferential rate.

“Paying for at least part of the year up front quells any fears that the landlord may have about not getting their monthly rent on time,” explains Lee-Mills, “and gives them peace of mind for the whole year—which is priceless!”

Alternatively, you should also inquire about any bargaining chips your landlord can make on their end—free parking, no broker fee, even a free month of rent—if the rent itself is non-negotiable.

“If rent is non-negotiable a tenant can always ask for a free month of rent, making the net effective rent lower,” says Boriskin. “They can also ask for the landlord to pay or split the broker fee with them, and if the building has amenities that are an additional fee they can ask the landlord to cover that amount.”

“When negotiating on a rental, it usually comes down to the fact that both parties want to feel like they are getting something,” adds Lee-Mills. “It’s very situational, but try to put yourself in the other party’s shoes and come up with something creative that shows that you are kind, thoughtful, and want to get the deal done.”

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Know When to Walk Away

Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve researched, negotiated, and bargained with your landlord, you’re just not going to get the deal you hoped for. In these cases, it’s important to know when it’s time to walk away from a rental, so you can concentrate your efforts on the right apartment for you.

“I believe that the time to walk away is when you feel like an apartment is overpriced and everything that you try to do to work a fair deal out gets declined,” says Boriskin, “Unless the tenant really feels the apartment is the best that they have seen and they need to have it—it’s probably time to look for something else.”

Tips for Current Tenants

  1. Know your worth. “If you are in an apartment you love and your landlord is trying to raise the rent, appeal to their interest by going over the obvious numbers,” says Corcoran agent Olivia Ionescu. “One month of vacancy equals one month of rent divided by 12, and this is what they’d be losing each month if you leave.”
  2. Point out the pros. “Landlords generally don’t want the turnover of a fair market valued apartment any more than you don’t want a higher rent,” explains Corcoran agent David Delaney. “Turnover for them means painting, other renovation costs, and a potential lack of rental income due to vacancy time on the market.” 
  3. Put it in writing. “If you feel like you will be overpaying to renew and can find a similar apartment for a cheaper price (or more incentives than what your current landlord offers), send a written offer to your landlord with comps,” says agent Kevin Djungu Sungu of Warburg Realty, “The vacancy loss could be greater than comprising to retain a renter.”
Photography by Brittany Ambridge