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Ask Sam: My landlord is offering deals to new tenants. How can I get the same break?

With vacancies high, some landlords are willing to negotiate and offer a concession.

Austin Havens-Bowen for Brick Underground/Flickr

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Question:

I’m renewing my lease soon, and a comparable apartment across the hall was recently rented for $425 less a month than what I am paying. How do I get our rent dropped this much when we renew? What should I say to my landlord to make my case?

Answer:

This is an increasingly common question from tenants as rental vacancies in New York City are up and more landlords are offering incentives to lure new tenants, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

In fact, after the pandemic initially sent many New Yorkers fleeing, now newcomers are moving in, seeking (relatively) affordable rents. New leases doubled last month in Manhattan, where the median rent, $2,995, was a drop of 14.4 percent from February 2020. And the median rent in Brooklyn and Queens for February was down 15.3 percent and 13 percent, respectively, compared to a year ago. Leasing activity is also surging in Brooklyn and Queens.

But even as new leases increase, there's still lots of vacant apartments available. Inventory in Manhattan is still triple the amount available last year. In some larger buildings, Himmelstein says, as many as 30 to 50 percent of apartments are vacant.

“Landlords always say that the market should be driving rents, so if that’s the case, then rents should be coming down,” he says. “And you do see some landlords offering incentives and lower rent to new tenants.”

For existing tenants, though, it’s not so easy to get a break on rent—even if the landlord has lowered the rate on similar apartments in the building that are currently vacant.

“For the last year, I’ve found that landlords initially would not negotiate with existing tenants, even when they’re offering similar apartments for $200 or $300 less a month,” Himmelstein says. “The landlords know people don’t want to move, so they’ve got them.”

In the last few months, though, some landlords are changing their approach, and showing willingness to negotiate with current tenants. Himmelstein cites one client who approached her landlord at renewal and pointed out that he was offering apartments for hundreds less than hers, plus additional incentives. He offered her two months of free rent—not the same deal new tenants are getting, but still a discount.

If you want to try negotiating your rent down, you may have to play hardball and threaten to move out if the landlord doesn’t give you a break. It may help to refer to other, similar apartments in the neighborhood that are offering better deals.

But be warned that some landlords, rather than lower existing tenants’ rent, are opting to warehouse their apartments in the hopes that conditions eventually change and become more favorable to them. 

“Some landlords are keeping apartments vacant and hoping the market will come back,” Himmelstein says. “And others are keeping apartment vacated by rent-stabilized tenants empty because they’re hoping the courts will strike down parts of HSTPA (the 2019 rent reform laws) that outlawed vacancy deregulation.”

In other words, if you tell the landlord you’ll move out if they don’t offer lower rent or concessions, be prepared for them to call your bluff.

“The general advice I give to people is don’t ever threaten to do anything you’re not willing to do, because then you become the tenant who cried wolf,” Himmelstein says. “But if you’re really prepared to pack up and move, let the landlord know.”

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Read all our Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer columns here.


Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.