How to Lower Your Rent

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reduced rentPaying too much for your apartment? Don't be bitter, be a bargainer.

I just successfully negotiated a rent reduction for the first time in over five years of renting in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sure, it was only a whopping $25 per month, but when I calculate that I will have an extra $300 at the end of next year, it does not sound too shabby.

So how did I do it and what can you learn from my experience?
The first time I tried to get my rent reduced, I was renting from the owner of a townhouse who had just begun renting the larger unit downstairs. When I signed my lease in September 2008 the price was right. But with the economic crash the following December, I knew I could not stay.

I explained this calmly to my landlord: Lower the rent to meet the market adjustment or I was out. I moved in August 2009.

While I still think that apartment was overpriced, I see why the landlord was not willing to play ball. Without more experience as a landlord, he assumed offers would pour in for the place like they had the first time he listed it.

When the lease in my next apartment was up for renewal, the ball was in my court.

In April, my landlords sent me a renewal notice for a lease that was not up until August (a relatively common practice in these parts). Then they called to follow up and ask what my decision was.

I calmly explained that I felt that for what I was getting, the price was too high. I also explained that I was looking around at other places because I felt that I was a stellar tenant and deserved more. My roommate and I always paid on time. Always.

The leasing agent said she'd call me back and the very next day I had a reduced monthly rent. I asked to see it in writing and got the new lease a week later.

I'd attribute part of this success to the fact that I do always pay on time and I suspect that not everyone in my building (four floors, 20 units) does. Unlike the last landlord, this one knew the value of holding onto a reliable tenant.

I spoke to an apartment manager at S.L.Nusbaum in Virginia to get more tips about what to do.

My tipster advised me that since his company manages 17,000 apartments, they make it their mission once a year to visit the competition's apartments and see what they are renting for. This is what apartment dwellers should do too. Turnovers cost landlords money, he explained. Loss of rent due to vacancies is their worst nightmare and management is unable to rent the place for a higher-than-market rate.

So it's an easy two-step process:
  • Point out how you've been a good tenant.
  • And if you think your place is priced above the market rate, prove it.
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