Dear PoPville – Has Anyone Ever Successfully Re-negotiated Lower Rent?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Beau Finley

“Dear PoPville,

My lease ends this year, and I want negotiate a lower rent. How do I go about doing that?

Background: I live in a large, older apartment building near the 14th St corridor. The building is ok: great staff and neighbors, but aging infrastructure (read: lots of intrusive utility repairs) and pretty much no amenities. Since the beginning of my lease, a half dozen new apartment and condo buildings have opened nearby, with several more on the way. There isn’t just more inventory available — all the new buildings are qualitatively better, and only slightly more expensive than what I’m paying now (let’s call it the $2000 – $2150 range). My lease ends this year, at which point I go month-to-month.

Data: I’ve noticed more empty units in my building lately. Some floorplans are renting for $100-$200 less than when I moved in. I am aware that the marginal costs are in their favor if they choose to balk (moving expenses dis-incentivize me, while someone else’s fresh move-in deposit would cover some of their lost monthly revenue), but the market will only trend down for them and they may want to lock into the highest revenue stream they can get right now. I’m pretty sure that I’m paying slightly more ($100-$150 more) for my unit than the building management is getting on the market right now, so I’d like to meet them in the middle and ask for $50-$75 less each month.

Question: Has anyone successfully re-negotiated a lower rent for their lease? If so, how did you go about doing it?”

21 Comment

  • I haven’t done this, but keep in mind, when doing the analysis, that if there are more empty units in the building, they have an incentive to keep you, since they may be looking at the unit sitting empty for a month or two after you leave.

  • Interesting question. I successfully negotiated for my rent to stay as is instead of having the usual annual increase. I live in an old (1950s) building that is under rent control. We have no staff on site, nor do we have any amenities. Appliances are antiquated, but the location is hard to beat. When I moved in five years ago, they were charging the highest prices they could charge. Market conditions have forced them to stay at the rent they were charging about three years ago. In fact, in a move to fill up empty apartments (of which we have many), they have offered sweetheart deals over the past few years- including a first year at 10-15% off the original price, Visa cards with certain amounts of money, etc… They have also lessened their standards- they no longer require a one-year lease, and they no longer are enforcing their $50K of income requirement. The outrage was when my annual increase finally resulted in me paying more than the market rate (and actually far more than the market rate since the “market rate” is now heavily discounted- the people who move in are usually paying a rate lower than advertised). I made the argument to our property manager months prior to the normal increase last year. He agreed that I was one of the people “who did not benefit from rent control” and cut me a break by not increasing the rate. I am still paying more than the market rate, but I’m going to be making the argument yet again this year that the freeze on my rent remain. I’ve wondered if it was even legal to have someone paying more in rent than the building can charge a totally new person coming off the street, but this may be one of those quirks in rent controlled buildings. Anyway, have a good relationship with management, be reasonable with your case, and show persistence. It just may pay off.

    • I also live in a 1950s rent-controlled building, but they’ve been raising our rent about $100/year, to the point that it’s really not much cheaper than newer buildings in the neighborhood.

      • I also live in a rent controlled building, with my rent increasing about $75/year. I have tried unsuccessfully to get them to stabilize my rent.

    • I am in a similar situation as Anonymous 1:54 (though my building typically fills up when units become vacant and they do not offer the incentives mentioned) and I’ve also negotiated for my rent to remain constant when they tried to raise it (legally) to an amount that was more than new tenants would pay for an equivalent unit (except that they are gradually redoing kitchens, so in fact new tenants would move into a slightly updated unit, not to mention freshly painted walls and polished floors).
      I also echo the advice to approach it in a friendly way. I just called and nicely explained why it seemed unfair (charging less for an unknown quantity, no lost revenue from having a vacant apartment since I’ve lived there several years, charging me more for an older unit than one with a new kitchen, etc.), joked that I’d like to just move into a new unit if it meant my rent would be lower, etc.
      I am not sure that my argument would have been compelling if I was comparing my rent to other nearby buildings, though. But check what other apartments in your building are being rented for to new tenants, they are almost certainly not charging the same amount as the new buildings with amenities so you might be able to make a case.

      • I just reread more carefully, and the OP is in the same situation of paying more than new tenants in the same building. While you point out the costs/disincentives to you of moving, don’t underestimate the costs to the landlord of tenant turnover — having a unit vacant for some weeks, rehabbing the unit (paint, floors, cleaning or replacing appliances), dealing with the hassle of advertising and showing and credit checks, and the small (but real) risk of having someone move in who will be noisy or destructive or late in paying rent. When talking with your landlord, play up the cost to them if you move and don’t mention your own!

  • My experience with landlords is that most are extraordinarily reluctant to make concessions that would show up on the rent rolls (e.g. when they go to the bank for any type of financing). Instead many will counter with some type of amenity — new appliances, carpeting, painting, etc. Then it will be up to you to decide if it’s worth it.

    • I’m a landlord and I agree with this statement. Lowering rents is not part of my business plan, I’d rather provide amenities/repairs/refurbs.

      It is also possible they are trying to clear the building out to do a larger rehab and catch up with the market.

  • I haven’t negotiated for lower rent, but I have negotiated for other things — like painting, new carpet, a renovated bathroom, a renovated kitchen, etc. Then it was up to me to balance out whether the rent increase and upgrade was worth it — compared to the hassle and expense of moving.

  • It can’t hurt to just ask. Explain your situation, be serious about being ready to move (if that’s the case) and see what they say. In the last place I rented there was supposed to be a big jump at the end of the lease if we stayed for a short period of time (as an incentive to sign another year-long lease). When I spoke to the rental office and let them know that I wanted to stay for a few more months and would like to pay the rate that the rent would’ve been had I signed up for an additional year they were okay with that. (It might be because instead of a vacant unit in January they were getting a vacant unit in April.) I was expecting more of a negotiation but they just said yes right away!

  • I think you have a strong case for at least a rent stabilization. I did a similar negotiation (twice in two years actually) in a 1940’s apt I lived in near 16th and U when the building was losing tenants to other newer buildings. Since I really loved my building and didn’t as much care for the new amenities others had (or at least not paying for them), I would tell others about the apts available when they were considering moving – including two that actually did move into the building. When I talked with the management company I explained my case and how I helped get those apts rented and they very quickly eliminated the rent increase.

  • diploj

    It doesn’t seem to me like you’re negotiating from a position of strength. You’re in a neighborhood that is getting new buildings and growing more popular. Those new buildings are going to fill up quickly and then the people who wanted to live in them will “settle” for one of the older buildings (yours) to be in the neighborhood they like.

    It just seems counter-intuitive to me that a neighborhood that is improving would then see a decrease in rental prices for older places. A rising tide raises all ships/rent.

  • I heard of this at the height of the recession in 2008 and 2009. We successfully got our landlord to refrain from increases for two years, but didn’t get it argued down. I think it’s going to be tough. You need a *really* slack market for landlords to cut your rent. DC may have some modest overbuilding but I don’t think many landlords will outright drop your rent.

  • Why don’t you just move into one of the empty apartments in your building? If they are renting for $200 less, that’s a $2400 savings for one day of moving your stuff from one floor to another. Seems worth it to me! I certainly don’t earn $2400 for one day of work at my job 😉

    • I was thinking the same thing. At a minimum, the empty apartments selling for less could be your leverage. Tell them you are going to rent one of the cheaper apartments unless they lower their rent.

  • I overheard a guy from my former building discussing how he negotiated with the leasing office and was successful in having them reduce the increase in his rent from about an 8% increase to about a 6% increase. I don’t know how much that is dollar wise because I don’t know how much he was paying, but based on the average rents in that building, I’d guess that he argued them down from about a $200 increase to a $150 increase.

  • Start off with the line “this is not a negotiation!”

  • It would be pretty tough to negotiate rent decrease and your landlord would have to be a putz. You have to know the area’s rent comps fully. If your unit is over market or even with the market but in much worse condition, it’s possible. If you have a good relationship with your landlord you could also offer to allow them to raise your rent for rent control purposes but you only actually pay your same amount (but they can double cross you and use that as a way to kick you out months down the road). Owners will almost NEVER be incentivized to keep you at a low rent because (with rent control) it severely limits the property’s future value from a selling standpoint. In D.C., unlike other markets, vacancy can be good form a sales perspective (thanks, TOPA), so if vacancy becomes a problem because of “high” rent – it’s a great time to sell and they can purchase a better apartment building.

    Also 90% of 1950’s construction was in nicer areas of the city – so despite deteriorating conditions, you probably have no argument for a lower rent based solely on that.

  • I did this a couple of months ago. I live in a new (~3 years old) luxury building and was paying $2200. I noticed new rentals in the building were going for $1900-$2000 and made a stink about it. Initially, my building actually suggested I sign a “new” lease and switch apartments inside the same building. I went back and forth with building management and started looking for new places – I was fine with the apartment and was planning to re-sign at $2200, but I wasn’t willing to pay $300 more than new tenants. I also found it ridiculous to go to the trouble of moving only to move elsewhere in the building. Eventually, the manager took the issue to the company (supposedly) and offered me a renewal at $2050 – despite initially saying this was totally impossible and was never done. My only advice is to be willing to move if they won’t meet (or come close to) the rates they offer new tenants for your lease.

  • Love the picture that goes with this. Rent negotiation is akin to moving many sacks of concrete.

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