Negotiating Apartment Leases

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It’s incredible how often renters get intimidated into unfavorable leases because they didn’t do enough market research, they weren’t willing to engage in some good old fashioned bargaining, and they didn’t check out what their local and state tenant rights were.

It just doesn’t have to be this way, and with a little knowledge—and hey, a good track record with solid references from previous landlords and a strong credit report won’t hurt—prospective renters can manage to negotiate a rental agreement that is a lot more in their favor than the original agreement presented by the landlord.
Here’s a few steps to keep in mind when undertaking this important process:

Check out the Local Scene

Never even present yourself before a landlord or ask to see a lease agreement in writing before you’ve done a considerable amount of research on the local market.

  • Find out how many homes and apartments are vacant at the moment, a statistic which, if high, can become an invaluable bargaining chip later on in the process.
  • Learn how much the neighbors in the community are paying on average for something of a comparable size to what you’re hoping for.
  • If you’ve got your sights set on a few specific places, get the scoop on their condition: do they have structural problems, infestations, moisture issues, old plumbing, etc.?
  • Befriend the superintendent of an apartment complex and try to harvest some good information from them—and don’t forget to tip, because otherwise you could have a future superintendent with a grudge against you!
  • Does the place have a public transportation stop (bus, train, subway) nearby, and is it close to a mall, a cinema, a laundromat, or other convenient business whose proximity would greatly favor you (and imply a higher price!).

Know Your Rights

There’s nothing that could harm your chances of a good deal more than not knowing—thoroughly knowing—your rights as a tenant.
Visit the US Deparment of Housing and Urban Development’s website to get a state by state list of tenant rights. Anything in a lease contract that seems like it impinges on your rights in the slightest way needs to raise red flags immediately, and don’t sign anything if those issues haven’t been hammered out.

Cast a Wide Net

The more prospects you’ve got lined up, the stronger your position at the negotiating table. Make sure to identify at least two or three backup possibilities if you have one that attracts you much more than the others. If you fail to cast a wide net, you will suffer in the actual negotiation process.

Review the Lease Before Sitting Down

Don’t pretend to sit down for a bartering session with the landlord, the same day that you see the rental contract for the first time. Take it home and read it over, very carefully.

If you have an attorney, have them look it over and give you their opinion. If you have a friend or family member that has more experience than you in renting housing, get their opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of the contract. You want to know the document inside and out, and actually understand it, so that you can tackle any issues that may hurt you.

Play Hardball

Now it’s time to negotiate the lease and go in there and do the dirty work:

  • Don’t bring a bad attitude to the table: landlords want money more than anything, but next on their list of priorities comes having nice renters with whom they can have a civilized relationship. But, though your charm may be on, don’t let your guard down.
  • Express your interest in the apartment or house, and your satisfaction with the lease…except for the following points (identify them).
  • Don’t strive for more than a five percent reduction in the price, as you will seem too audacious with anything beyond this.
  • Also, be willing to make sacrifices in order to get what you want. If you lose certain amenities that aren’t critical to you in order to get a lower price, so be it.
  • Be willing to settle for alternative methods of arrangement: perhaps the price won’t come down, but a utility bill or two may get included in the price.
  • Take out your weapons, which you acquired in the earlier steps enumerated above: defects with the place, general prices in the neighborhood being lower than what the landlord is asking, low interest in the home and a high rate of vacancies in the area.
  • If worst comes to worst, be willing to walk away from the negotiating table in favor of another lease with a more flexible landlord. This may get you a better deal elsewhere, or it may get that same landlord to become more flexible.

Play Your Cards

Take advantage of whatever good history you have as a renter, an employee, etc. Present letters of recommendation, and if you have previous landlords willing to comment on your reliability, get your prospective landlord in touch with them. If you’ve got a strong credit history, prove it. Also, if you’re knowledgeable in home repairs, offer up some repair work as compensation for a reduction in the rent; this particularly applies if you’re a trained plumber, painter, electrician, carpenter, etc., and can really guarantee a good job.

Get it in Writing

Nothing counts if it’s not in writing. Whatever agreement you reach, if you’re happy with it and want to commit, get it in written form. Also, before settling on a particular lease, get a lawyer to go over it one last time to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Keep Your Word

If you’ve reached a good agreement, make sure to keep your word. Doing otherwise could ruin your chances of successfully negotiating a lease in the future. Also, be ready to move in immediately, as most good deals come with this stipulation.

Conclusion

In the end, it mostly boils down to your attitude and how much work you put into the process, before and during negotiation. For a professional overview of the process, go to BankRate’s guide on negotiating leases.

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