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If your lease is up for renewal, it’s very likely your landlord will do what they can to keep you in your apartment. While the New York City rental market is far busier now than at the height of the pandemic, landlords are still stuck with lots of empty apartments and want to hang on to the tenants they have.
You may not be experienced at negotiating but the main tactics are not hard to deploy: Keeping it polite and pointing out that you've been a good tenant and paid your rent on time are among the important considerations to help you get the best deal on your lease renewal.
Also bear in mind that if you previously signed a lease with a concession, you can't expect to get the exact same deal again, but you also may not be left empty handed. Noah Rosenblatt, co-founder of UrbanDigs, recently told us that for renters who want to renew now, "there is a high likelihood they can still get some level of concession on a renewal, just not as big as last year."
Renewing your lease means you’ll avoid the costly hassle of switching apartments, paying movers, a security deposit, and possibly a broker fee. It also makes sense to renew if you know you’ll be in NYC for another year or so and you truly love your place.
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published in May 2020. We are presenting it again here with updated information for May 2021.]
If you’re not in a position to renew, remember that if you keep paying your rent after your lease has expired, and the landlord accepts your payments, you become a month-to-month tenant. This can give you some flexibility—but also some risks, because you no longer have the protection of a lease.
Here’s what to know if you are negotiating your lease renewal.
1. Understand how market-rate units work
When it comes to rent-stabilized apartments, landlords are allowed to raise the rent annually but only by certain increments approved by the Rent Guidelines Board. However, the board voted in favor of a rent freeze last summer and are currently not allowed to raise rents on one-year leases and can only raise them 1 percent for the second year for two-year leases. (In a recent meeting, the board indicated they would consider keeping the freeze in place this summer. A final vote will be held in June.)
Market-rate tenants, on the other hand, are subject to the forces of supply and demand. That means when it's time to renew your lease, landlords are free to raise rents as much as they can, based on what the market will support. So if there's lots of competition for apartments, they may be more inclined to raise the rent. In slower times, like now, they may be more inclined to renew with small or no increase, or even offer an incentive to renew.
Generally, landlords try to retain good tenants, and both owners and renters are dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. In the current market, owners may well consider a reasonable offer from a good tenant for the sake of the economic health of the building.
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 finding new tenants can be costly, especially if renovations or updates are needed before the place can be put back on the market. If you've been a good tenant who always pays your rent on time, your landlord may be less inclined to raise your rent, especially now.
Here one success story: As the coronavirus pummeled NYC in April, Cathy Sutton (not her real name) had a $45 rent increase waived on a 12-month renewal by referencing her history as a tenant of over five years who always paid her dues on time.
3. Stay calm, and ask politely
Be respectful in approaching your lease renewal and negotiating against an increase or for a reduction.
Tenant attorney (and Brick Underground sponsor) Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donaghue & Joseph, advises tenants to say, “I’d like to renew at the same rent or lower given the current economic conditions,” and see how the landlord responds.
It also doesn't hurt to mention how much you like the building, the management, and the staff.
Do you need help negotiating your lease, renegotiating it at a rent you can afford, or terminating your lease early? The experienced tenants-rights attorneys at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph can advocate on your behalf. Call 212-349-3000 or email to schedule a consultation.
4. Do your research
If you’re presented with a rent increase, it pays to check what similar-sized apartments are renting for in the neighborhood on real estate listing and brokerage sites. If you are arguing against paying more, it’s better to make a case for yourself by presenting some numbers.
Catharine Grad, a tenant attorney at Grad and Weintraub, says telling your landlord that you’ve lost your job isn’t isn't your best strategy. Think about how you can make the best case for yourself. “Tenants need to figure out what they have to give,” she says. That might simply be that you can continue to pay at the same rate.
A Brooklyn renter made a case for lowering the rent at renewal time by creating a spreadsheet that showed how rents for similar apartments had dropped 8 to 10 percent. He asked for a 12 percent discount, and received a counter offer of 10 percent off. He stayed. "I accepted because I thought it was reasonable, and it amounts to five or six weeks free based on my previous rent," the renter says.
5. Get intel from 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. Charlie Panoff, an agent at Triplemint (a Brick Underground sponsor, FYI) 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 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 have been asking for repairs to your apartment, it doesn’t hurt to mention that when it’s time to renew the lease.
Bringing up a laundry list of necessary improvements could make for a tense lease-renewal conversation but it’s not a bad time to remind management about any on-going issues, Panoff adds, like the elevator renovation that took 12 weeks instead of the scheduled four.
8. If the rent is raised, ask for a two-year lease
Asking for a longer lease can lock in the rate and means you avoid going through negotiations again 12 months later. This might be something to consider if you like your apartment and are committed to staying in your neighborhood. Not all landlords will be open to giving you a two-year lease, but there’s no harm in asking.
—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Lucy Cohen Blatter, Donna Airoldi, and Nikki Mascali.
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