Rental Perks You Might Get -- If You Ask

perks can come with a rental lease agreement
perks can come with a rental lease agreement

By Doug Mack for

Most apartments will never come with the same perks as hotels. No room service. No wake-up calls. No daily housekeeping. No fancy soap in the bathroom or mint on your pillow. But while your typical apartment lacks these instant-gratification niceties, many come with at least one or two alluring perks of their own. A yard, rooftop deck or other outdoor space for hanging out. A pool or fitness room. On-site laundry (or even that elusive, magnificent find: free on-site laundry). Most of these amenities are well-advertised as part of the landlord's sales pitch. Other perks, for various reasons, aren't offered, and you have to ask for them. There's no guarantee your landlord will say yes to any of these extras, but it's worth making the inquiry.

Parking and storage: In all buildings, particularly in big cities, space is at a premium. Income-generating use (that is, rentable space) typically gets priority over everything else -- hence the tiny studio apartment wedged into the basement corner, just past the mechanical room. Even in these buildings, though, there may well be a parking spot or two in back, or a storage room down a dank hallway. If they exist, however, there's probably not enough space for everyone in the building. So how can you grab one of the spots? It may be as simple as just asking. You may have to settle for putting your name on a waiting list, or you may have to pay a nominal additional monthly fee, but at least you'll end up with more options than you had otherwise.

Permission to have pets: You've found your dream apartment, and the price is perfect, too. But the fine print of your lease bars your four-legged companion from living there. Bummer. Don't walk away quite yet. As with all the lease terms, it's worth asking the landlord directly if there's any flexibility. Sometimes, especially if you're dealing with a landlord who owns just one or two properties, the lease may be all boilerplate that even the landlord doesn't wholly understand (and didn't draft). Explain that your pet is well-behaved and you're a good neighbor. (Now would be a good time to provide references from previous places you've lived). And know that even if your landlord gives the OK, you may be charged slightly higher rent or an additional damage deposit. If you're renewing an existing lease and decide to get a pet, you have an even better bargaining chip: You've already established yourself as a responsible renter. The landlord knows you, trusts you and most likely doesn't want to lose you.

Incentives for referring a friend: Your friend needs a new apartment. There's one available in your building. Sweet! Your pal gets a place to live, and you get a cool new neighbor. Don't forget one more perk: Some landlords and management companies offer referral incentives (say, $50 or $100) if you find them a new renter. Ask the landlord upfront, before your friend signs the lease, just so it's clear that you really did recruit this new tenant. And, of course, if your landlord does give you something, it's only fair to offer your pal a cut; at the very least, buy him or her a cup of coffee as you show off the new neighborhood.

New appliances/fixtures: That rusty refrigerator or broken sink in an otherwise awesome apartment doesn't need to be a deal-breaker -- if the landlord is willing to replace it. Explain your concern and make the case: The sink seems like it's going to fall and cause a flood, or the refrigerator's obvious problems are going to result in your calling the landlord to fix it on a weekly basis. Obviously, you can't go overboard: No landlord is going to redo the bathroom just because you asked.

Getting first in line for another unit: You like your landlord and your neighborhood, but not your current living arrangement. Your unit is too small, too big or too expensive. Something's not quite right. Ask your landlord to notify you of any openings in the building -- or any others under the same ownership -- and put you first in line for other units that better meet your needs. You may be able to upgrade without the hassle of application fees or a new rental deposit.

Lower rent if you sign a longer lease: A standard rental lease is 12 months; often, when you renew, the landlord will give you the option to sign on for another year or switch to month-to-month, which costs more but gives you more flexibility if you're thinking about moving. But what if you're quite happy staying put and have no desire to live anywhere else for the foreseeable future? Ask your landlord about longer leases -- not just one year but two or more. You might catch him or her by surprise (such leases aren't terribly common), but if the answer is yes, you could end up saving a nice chunk of change.

With all of these perks, the key is to ask nicely. Don't be too pushy. Not all landlords can or will offer all or any of the things listed above. And do your research to know what's reasonable; get advice and guidance from friends in similar circumstances or other tenants in the same building. You're asking for something extra, so you need to have the confidence and knowledge to make your case.

See more on Zillow:
5 Steps for Decorating Your First Apartment
How to Know an Apartment Is Right for You
Tips for Long-Distance Apartment Searches

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Home Renting: The New American Dream?
Home Renting: The New American Dream?