Here's How to Negotiate with Your Landlord When They Raise Your Rent

NYC is dealing with a spike in rental prices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apartment buildings in NYC
Brian Goodman/Shutterstock
Brian Goodman/Shutterstock

After falling to historic lows during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City rent prices are back with a vengeance. Many people who moved into larger apartments or more expensive neighborhoods while prices were low are now experiencing sticker shock as landlords try to raise the rent, sometimes by 50% or more.

While city and state law in New York City typically allows owners of non-regulated apartments to raise rents at their discretion when a lease ends, that doesn't mean renters are out of options. Negotiating your rent can seem intimidating, but there are steps you can take to help yourself and ensure your rights are protected.

To learn more, Thrillist spoke to Allia Mohamed, the CEO of NYC-based apartment rental site openigloo. Her company, which allows tenants to share reviews of their buildings and landlords, recently released a trio of email templates to help tenants negotiate rent after many users reported steep rent hikes.

Mohamed advised would-be negotiators to start with a gut check. "What can you afford? How does that compare against what your moving costs are going to be? And [then] see if you can negotiate something that's a little bit more comfortable," she said.

What if my landlord missed the notification window? 

The first step is knowing your rights. Even if your apartment is not protected under public housing, rent control, or rent stabilization laws, landlords are still required to give you proper notice about increases or lease terminations.

"If you have a one-year lease, they have to give you at least 60 days notice," she said. "If you lived in the apartment for longer than two years, they have to give you 90 days notice." If these deadlines are missed, the most a landlord can legally raise your rent is 5%.

For renters in this situation, Mohamed suggests using this general template when beginning negotiations:

Thanks for sending over the renewal. However, I was expecting the increase to be less than 5%, since we've passed the XX-day notice window. I'd love to stay, but I'm hoping we can agree on a renewal of $$$$ instead.

If the issue isn't resolved from there, a renter may have to take their landlord to court to fight an increase.

"This is a difficult decision that some renters have to make: Do they just let this go and pay the increase even though they know it's not legal, or do they fight back?" She said. "Something I think is helpful is saying, 'Hey, I would love to resolve this between us without having to involve a third party. Let me know what we can do.' And again, trying to keep things as cordial and civil and stable as possible before really having to escalate to taking legal action."

What if I want to negotiate the price they offered me?

If you have received the proper notice on a significant rent increase, that doesn't mean you're out of options.

"The leverage comes when you're already in the apartment, you've established this rental history, you're paying your rent on time," she advised. "There's some sort of trust and you really want to leverage that in the best way you can."

Mohamed said all negotiations should start with an understanding of the local market. "What are similar-sized apartments going for in their neighborhood?" She asked. "So if you live in an amenity building, the comparables that you want to bring forward to your landlord are the one or two bedrooms from similar amenity buildings in your neighborhood."

Once you have that information, she recommends approaching the negotiation like this:

Thanks for sending over the renewal. I was surprised by the new rent because similar #-bedrooms in the area are renting for around $$$$. I understand the market has changed since last year, but given my good standing as a tenant, I'd love to meet somewhere in the middle. Could we make $$$$ work?
Thanks for your consideration.

"Ultimately what you're trying to prove is that it's a safer bet for them to stay with you than to go out in the market and find someone new," she said.

What if I want to reach out proactively?

There's also a third tactic, where a renter fearful of a significant rent increase could proactively reach out to their landlords ahead of the required notification window. She suggests a message like the following:

I hope all is well. I wanted to send a note as my lease is expiring in # months, and I'd love to get some clarity on the renewal. I've enjoyed my time in this apartment and would love to stay another # years. Given my good standing as a tenant, could we renew at the same rate? Happy to sign a renewal now if we come to an agreement.
Thanks for your consideration.

While it doesn't guarantee anything, being proactive can sometimes help lock in rates with landlords eager to maintain continuous occupancy of their apartments. 

What else can I use in my negotiations, and what should I be wary of?

Mohamed encouraged residents to get creative, even if they can't reach their desired rent price.

"Offering to sign a longer lease, depending on the landlord and what their needs are, could be something good," she said. "[And] not everything necessarily needs to be about rent prices. If the landlord won't budge on rent, maybe there are updates to appliances or something else in the apartment that you're looking for. Maybe new paint. Maybe there are other vacancies in the building, and you offer to make referrals to the landlord in exchange for a credit or a discount on the rent."

One thing Mohamed stressed throughout the process was to weigh the benefits and the risks and to approach the situation as calmly and respectfully as possible, even if you think they're offering a bad deal. 

"That was really the inspiration behind the templates is this is a cool, calm, collected, structured way to approach your landlord," she said. "Something that's completely reasonable is saying, 'Hey, is there any wiggle room here? Would you be comfortable matching this number based on X, Y, Z?' That's definitely something that renters need to keep in mind: Is there a risk that the landlord chooses not to renew at all? So you do have to tread lightly."

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Chris Mench is an editor focusing on NYC News at Thrillist. You can follow him on Twitter for more of his work.