During what would have normally been the busiest season for rentals, new listings are flooding the market to far less demand. July saw 30 percent more rental listings across the city but 35 percent fewer leases signed compared to the same time last year, according to a recent UrbanDigs report.
And landlords finally seem to be capitulating to renters looking for lower prices. According to StreetEasy, 34.7 percent of all Manhattan rentals got a discount from April through June, with a median cut of 6.7 percent (or $221) per month.
The apparent decline in rent, coupled with widespread financial hardship, are prompting many tenants to reexamine their own lease terms. “I think everybody is kind of looking at lease renewals with a little bit more of a critical eye,” says Robert Khederian, a Compass agent who has recently helped several clients renegotiate their leases. “Renters have the upper hand right now.”
If you’re looking to move, here’s what you need to know about preparing for a negotiation that’ll yield the best possible outcome — and exactly what to say.
I’m in the middle of a lease. Do I have a shot at renegotiating?
You could try, but it’s definitely unlikely your landlord will budge. Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, says that one thing you can ask for is a break on your rent (especially if you’re experiencing financial issues during the pandemic), but since there’s a contract in place, your landlord can easily decline.
My lease is up soon. Can my landlord actually raise my rent during a pandemic?
The short answer is: Yes. If you’re a nonregulated tenant (i.e., your apartment isn’t one of the approximately one million rent-stabilized units in the city), your landlord can (unfortunately) raise your rent by any amount they’d like, even during a pandemic. But there are caveats: If your landlord is raising your rent by more than 5 percent, they must, under current rent law, give you written notice 90 days in advance if you’ve lived in the apartment for two years or more; 60 days if you’ve lived there for more than a year (but less than two years); and 30 days if you’ve lived there for less than a year.
If your apartment is stabilized, your rent is dictated by what the city’s Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) decides each year. This year, in June, the RGB decided to freeze rents (that is, a 0 percent increase) for one-year leases and the first year of two-year leases.
So how can I get a better deal?
Renewing your lease is virtually the only real opportunity to renegotiate the terms of your contract. The first step is to do your research: Take a close look at units similar to yours on the market. For instance, if you live in a one-bedroom, look for another one-bedroom listed in the same building. If your building doesn’t have many comparable units, look at what’s currently listed in your neighborhood and in the same type of building (Does that building also have a doorman and a gym? Is it also a walk-up?). “If you can find at least three apartments that can support your argument, that would be compelling,” Khederian says.
The second step is to either email or call your landlord and bring up those similar apartments you’ve found to make your case.
Another point to raise during a rent-negotiation conversation, according to Davidson, is “why [you’re] the type of tenant the landlord might want to keep.” For example: Have you been paying your rent on time, even through the pandemic? Make sure to bring that up.
Lastly, remember to be courteous. A good way to end the email or conversation with your landlord or property manager, Khederian suggests, is something like this: “I am willing to re-sign, and I really enjoy living here, but [my research] indicates that the value of my apartment has changed; can we please agree upon a price that reflects a fair market value for my apartment?”
Can we hear some success stories?
Sure! Consider the story of Sara Lara and her fiancé, Jose, who were able to negotiate down their rent on a Midtown East one-bedroom that had a lease expiring at the end of September. When their landlord requested a renewal with a $50 increase, Jose emailed the property manager and cited specific examples of other one-bedrooms with in-unit washer-dryers currently being offered in the same doorman building for almost $1,000 less. He also mentioned that they were contemplating moving out. The property manager later agreed to lower their rent by $525.
Meanwhile, Mike*, a Tribeca resident, was able to negotiate a 2 percent discount on his rent despite his landlord initially attempting to increase it by 1.5 percent. Mike brought up that he was looking for other (cheaper) places and was considering moving out. Ultimately, the 2 percent discount came in the form of a cash gift card (a common landlord concession); Mike agreed to pay his original monthly rent, and the landlord would return the extra amount through the gift card.
What if my landlord just doesn’t want to negotiate?
If your landlord is refusing to negotiate, there’s not much else you can do. But given it’s currently a renter’s market with increased supply (including flexible short-term leases) and more rent concessions, it’s not the worst time to try to find a better deal on a new apartment.
*Name changed for privacy.