A budget is like a house of cards — move one thing and the entire house can come tumbling down. If you’ve ever faced a rent increase that was more than your budget could bear, you know how quickly things can fall to pieces.
While most renters expect an increase in rent from year to year, sometimes that increase is more like a shocking jump than a reasonable bump. If this sounds like your situation, here’s how to figure out if your landlord is playing fair, or if your rights are being violated.
1. Look at the Surrounding AreaWhat constitutes a “fair” rent increase is often up for interpretation, but getting a grasp on the local rental market is a good place to start. Search rental listings in your area that are similar in size to see how properties are currently priced. The key here is comparing apples to apples: If you are in an updated building with a fitness center, pool and ample parking, don’t compare your property to the aging building without amenities down the street.If you’ve lived in a unit for several years without a rate increase, market demand may justify the jump. Jennifer Beadles, a landlord and real estate broker in Seattle, Washington, purchased a property with a mold and maintenance problem that was charging tenants $600 per month. After extensive updates, the rates for existing tenants jumped to just under what the market could bear — $900 per month. While the rent increase was substantial, property changes and the market supported it.
2. Think About How You Were ToldAccording to Beadles, fairness isn’t just about the size of the increase, it’s about how you were alerted to it. “Any rate hike where the tenant was not properly notified in writing and given the proper notice to accept or terminate their tenancy is not only considered unfair, but it would be illegal.”First, a landlord cannot impose a rent increase during an active lease. When a rent increase is introduced for a lease renewal, most states require 30-60 days written notice. For month-to-month tenants, the notice requirement is typically 30 days.
3. Research Your Local LawsGetting a handle on whether your rent increase is legal requires a little digging into the landlord and tenant laws in your state and city.According to Dan Tenenbaum, chair elect of the California Apartment Association of Los Angeles, certain states and cities place a cap on rent increases. For example, a rent stabilization ordinance in Los Angeles caps rent increases in buildings built before October 1978 at 3 percent. For California cities not subject to rent control laws, a tenant must receive at least 60 days notice before a rent increase of 10 percent or more.Beadles suggests starting your search at Landlordology.com where you can see a list of landlord and tenant laws in your area.
4. Create an Action PlanWhen faced with a legal rent increase that is too much for your budget, Tenenbaum suggests speaking to the manager or owner of the building.“If you have been a good resident and explain your financial situation, some landlords will lower the rent to keep you,” he explains. “Since there is quite a cost to the owner when a unit turns, including making it rent-ready, loss of rents and the risk of an unknown, new, incoming tenant, there may be some flexibility.”For an illegal rent increase, Beadles suggests preparing a letter to the landlord notifying them proper notice wasn’t given or a rent increase cap is being violated and pointing them to the relevant law or ordinance. If the landlord still refuses to budge, contact your local housing department.