If it’s time to renew your lease on your NYC apartment, don’t panic. It may seem scary, since you probably don’t have a lot of experience negotiating your rent—after all, it’s likely not something you do for a living, and you arguably have a lot at stake, since this is where you live.
There are some things to know to put you in a better position to renew your lease at the same rent. But you should also know that if you signed a lease with a concession, like one or two months free, you’re not going to get the same deal again—that’s just how it (usually) works to encourage you to take an apartment.
That’s not an argument for packing up and leaving to find a new apartment to get another deal—new leases with concessions are on the decline in NYC as landlords gain the upper hand in the current market.
Renewing your lease means you’ll avoid the costly hassle of switching apartments, paying movers, a security deposit, and possibly a broker fee. Plus, it just makes sense to renew if you truly love your place and neighborhood.
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published in May 2019. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer 2019 Best of Brick week.]
Here’s what to know if you may be negotiating your rent renewal.
1. Understand where your landlord's coming from
When it comes to rent-stabilized apartments, landlords are allowed to raise the rent only by certain increments approved by the Rent Guidelines Board each year. Through September 30th, 2019, it’s 1.5 percent for one-year leases, and 2.5 percent for two-year leases. Earlier in the year, the same increases were approved for renewals from October 1, 2019-September 30, 2020.
On market-rate apartments, however, “there is no limit on the rent increase that can be charged at the end of your lease,” the Rent Guidelines Board says. So landlords of market-rate apartments can raise rents as they see fit but…(read on for a big exception to this rule in #2).
Gross Rent Calculator
Some New York City landlords offer a free month (or more) at the beginning or end of a lease. The advertised rent is the net effective rent. The net effective rent is less than the amount you will actually have to pay --- known as your gross rent --- during your non-free months.
Brick Underground's Gross Rent Calculator enables you to easily calculate your gross rent, make quick apples-to-apples comparisons between apartments and avoid expensive surprises. All you'll need to figure out your gross rent is 1) the net effective rent, 2) the length of your lease, and 3) how many free months your landlord is offering. [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]
To learn more about net effective versus gross rents, read What does 'net effective rent' mean?.
If the landlord is offering partial months free, enter it with a decimal point. For example, 6 weeks free rent should be entered as 1.5 months.
2. Your track record matters
Landlords generally want to keep a tenant in an apartment, because changing a unit over can be costly, especially if renovations or updates are needed before it can be put back on the market. So if you've been a good tenant who always pays your rent on time, your landlord is less likely to raise your rent.
3. Stay calm, and ask politely
The old adage about catching more flies with honey is particularly true in NYC. If your landlord tells you he or she is raising the rent, here’s what you can do:
"You want to be polite and respectful," says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats. "I think most times, it’s better to say, 'I’ve been a tenant for X time, I’ve always paid rent on time. I wasn't expecting the rent increase to be this high. Is there anything more palatable?'"
It also doesn't hurt to mention how much you like the building, the management, and the staff.
4. Do your research
If you’re being presented with a rent increase, you should check what similar-sized apartments are renting for in the neighborhood on brokerage sites or StreetEasy. If you are going to be paying more, it’s better to make a case for yourself by presenting some numbers.
But if you think that telling the landlord about a personal hardship you’re facing will tip the scales in your favor, chances are it won’t.
"If you go to your landlord and say you didn't get a bonus this year and spent all your money already so you shouldn't get a rent increase, they'll come back with, 'What about my situation? I have a mortgage,'" says Charlie Panoff, an agent at Triplemint (a Brick Underground sponsor, FYI). "The landlord doesn't care about you. They care about the market and the property. Just make it about the numbers, not yourself. And with the current market, be grateful and realize that anything less than a 10 percent raise is a blessing.”
Do keep in mind that rental values are often fluid, so new upgrades to your building can increase the cost and asking rent.
5. Talk to your neighbors
Gramercy renter Jennifer C. found out that her neighbors with a similar-sized apartment were offered an incentive for starting renewal negotiations early.
"We were not offered that same deal, so I leveraged it," she says. The end result? She negotiated her rent increase down nearly 50 percent.
This can also occasionally work for rent-stabilized apartments. Panoff once saw a similar apartment in his building going for hundreds of dollars less than his rent-stabilized place. He told the landlord he would apply for the other apartment in order to save money.
"It went back and forth, and eventually they conceded and gave me the same [lower] rate," he says.
6. Small landlords may be more willing to negotiate
Some landlords and management companies, especially those in larger buildings or complexes, use software that sets rental rates according to real-time market conditions, seasonal trends, competitor prices, and lots of other metrics.
But analytics programs can be expensive for landlords of smaller buildings. With a mom-and-pop small landlord, decisions will rely more on a gut check, especially if you are renting an apartment in a house: Are you a respectful, quiet tenant who pays the rent on time? If so, they may be more willing to give you a break when your lease is up.
7. Consider asking for an upgrade
If your rent is going up, consider asking the landlord to make a significant replacement or repair. Panoff had a landlord who didn't raise the rent one year, but wanted to increase it by $150 per month the next. He negotiated it down to $100 and got a bathroom renovation out of it.
"We were willing to pay more to have something a little nicer," he says.
If you’ve been making complaints about things in your apartment, “it never hurts to mention that when it’s time to renew the lease," Malin says.
This would also be a good time to remind management about anything that may have gone wrong in the building, Panoff adds, like the elevator renovation that took 12 weeks instead of the announced four weeks.
But be warned: Bringing up a laundry list of necessary improvements could make for a tense lease-renewal conversation. Focus on just one or two significant areas.
8. Just ask
If you don’t ask your landlord if you can negotiate your rent increase, you’ll never know what they’ll say. Just make sure it’s a reasonable request—and know you’re less likely to get a reduction if everyone else’s rent is going up.
While an email or phone call should suffice, if you don’t get a response from those methods, Panoff recommends going in person to pay next month’s rent if possible and asking for a reduced increase then.
"To most landlords, a tenant is just a number," he says. "But if you go in person and add a human element to it, the landlord may say, 'This is a nice person,' and raise the rent only $25 instead of $100. No one is ever upset when you're handing them money."
9. If they raise the rent, ask for a two-year lease
This way you can lock in the price for an extra year and avoid going through this again in 12 months. Not all landlords will be open to giving you a two-year lease, but again, there’s no harm in asking.
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