Is it possible to negotiate with a landlord over a rent increase in a rent-stabilized apartment?
Landlords of rent-stabilized apartments can't increase the rent when your lease is up for renewal by more than the percentages outlined annually by the Rent Guidelines Board. That's cold comfort this year since the increases expected to be approved for leases signed after October are higher than they've been since 2014. After a recent preliminary vote, it appears that one-year leases will see rent increases in the range of 2 to 4 percent and two-year leases will see increases of 4 to 6 percent. The final vote takes place in mid June.
However, as a tenant in a rent-stabilized apartment you are within your rights to ask whether your landlord will accept a lower rent.
"There's nothing in the rent-stabilization law that would outlaw negotiating with your landlord for a lower increase," says Ellen Davidson, staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society.
That said, market conditions are not in your favor: Demand for apartments is soaring and there are fewer apartments available. Landlords of rent-stabilized apartments saw rent increases frozen last year and partially frozen this year and feel entitled to whatever additional rent they are allowed to ask for in order to cover rising costs.
If a landlord agrees to give you a deal, either by increasing the rent by a lower rate or not raising it all, the new rent would become what's called a preferential rent. This term refers to a rent that's less than the maximum a landlord of a rent stabilized apartment could charge.
"My guess, based on the rent increases we see across the state, that it will be extremely challenging to successfully negotiate a preferential rent this year," Davidson says.
Of course, the market can change. It did so quickly during the pandemic.
"Sometimes in a down market a landlord of a rent-stabilized building will agree to a lower rent and will make it a preferential rent," says Jennifer Rozen, managing attorney at Rozen Law Group. Back in 2019, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act made it illegal for a landlord to revoke a preferential rent once it was given—basically locking it in for the lifetime of the tenancy so it can only be increased in line with percentages authorized by the Rent Guidelines Board.
"While ultimately that is a good change for tenants, some landlords may be unwilling to lower the rent, even in a down market, since they wouldn't be able to raise it at the end of any given lease period," Rozen says.
But it doesn't hurt to ask, she says. The main tactics to negotiate your rent at lease renewal are not hard to deploy: Keep it polite and point out that you've been a good tenant and paid your rent on time.
What you don't want to do is make it a zero sum game. Instead, consider a range of outcomes you'd be ok with. For example, if you don't have success negotiating a lower rent, maybe you can come to an agreement about an upgrade.
It's the same advice for tenants in market-rate apartments: The trick is not to respond emotionally, understand your rights, and keep it civil.
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