If you’ve had a hard time finding an affordable rental lately, you’re not alone. According to a recent study by the real estate website Zillow, renters are spending more on rent now nationwide than they have in the last 30 years.
And while many finance experts would tell you not to spend more than 30 percent of your monthly take-home pay on rent and utilities, that may be impossible in many major U.S. cities. Zillow found 80 cities where median rent alone has exceeded the 30 percent rule of thumb. For example…
- New Orleans – 35.3 percent
- New York – 39.5 percent
- San Francisco – 40.7 percent
- Miami – 43.2 percent
- Los Angeles – 46.9 percent
It’s bad out there, but you can still find a good deal. Whether you’re looking, about to sign a lease, or hoping to stay in your current rental, we’ve got a bunch ways to beat the high rent rates.
1. Broaden your horizons
When you’re apartment hunting, you’ll likely get a better deal if you consider more than one area — especially if you’re willing to look outside of urban centers.
Mia Melle, president of the property management firm Renttoday.us, says, “The suburbs are always more affordable than the metro and downtown areas, sometimes by 50 percent!”
Case in point: My neighborhood in New Orleans is a mere four miles from downtown, but my rent is $750 cheaper than smaller lofts available in the city’s center.
2. Comparison shop
You probably wouldn’t buy a TV, a sofa, or even a pair of shoes without comparing prices at a few stores, and you shouldn’t rent without knowing what deals are available in your area. “Check online to see what similar properties in the same area are renting for,” Melle says.
Knowing where the cheapest deal is doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sign a lease there, either. “If the property you are interested in seems overpriced, being able to show the landlord what the local comps are will help get a discount, especially if you are the only applicant looking at the property,” Melle says.
When you find somewhere you love, Melle says to remember one simple rule: “Rent prices, just like house prices, are negotiable. You should always try to see what type of deal you can get. You just need to ask!”
Not all landlords are willing to lower their prices just because you asked nicely, but you may be able to leverage yourself as a great tenant. According to Melle, having great credit, being willing to sign a longer lease, or even offering to handle some maintenance yourself can help you score a better deal.
4. Beware of hidden costs
At some properties, your monthly rent may not be all you pay. Many apartment complexes also charge small monthly fees for parking, gated access, or curbside trash pickup. And if you have a pet, make sure you’re not paying Fluffy’s rent, too.
“Sometimes a landlord will charge ‘pet rent,’ which is typically $25 to $50 or so per pet per month,” Melle says.
Make sure you read the lease carefully. Additional fees could transform a great rent deal into a monthly burden.
5. Use your lease as a bargaining chip
When you sign a lease, you’re locked in to your rent rate, so you know you won’t have any surprises ahead for the next six to 12 months. But if you’re planning on sticking around, signing a longer lease could help you save money, too.
“Some landlords will give you a discount for signing a two- or three-year lease, because they will save money not having to re-advertise and make the property rent-ready for a new renter,” Melle says.
6. Know when your rent is safe
Once you’re in a place, you don’t have to worry about rent increases, right? Not always.
“If you are on a month-to-month lease, the landlord can raise your rent anytime with a 30-day notice unless the increase is higher than 10 percent — in which case that requires a 60-day notice,” Melle says. “If you have been living in the property more than a year, the landlord needs to give you a 60-day notice regardless of the increase rate.”
While many renters like the freedom of living on a month-to-month lease, you might be better off re-upping your lease at the end of your term and locking in your rent rate again, especially if you live in an urban area where landlords don’t have a hard time finding new tenants.
7. Fight illegal increases
Legally, your landlord can’t increase your rent while you’re in a lease, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. If you do get an illegal rent increase notice, try negotiating first.
“If the landlord raises your rent without giving you notice, you can advise him in writing that you have not been properly notified and he needs to delay the increase to comply with the notification requirement,” Melle says.
And if your landlord still won’t back off, reach out to your local housing authority office. A fair housing representative can mediate between you and your landlord to help reach a resolution.