What to do when rent is too high

An AJC Bargain Hunter reader — we’ll call him Frustrated Renter — wrote with me with a plea about his rent increasing. He lives in an 800 sq. ft. one bedroom apartment in the Phipps/Lenox area. He originally signed a four-month lease at $820 a month with the rental company because he’d heard “some sketchy” reports about the area and wanted to make sure he was comfortable there before signing a longer contract.

He recently received a renewal letter that says the complex is raising his rent to $980 — almost a 20 percent increase.

Frustrated wants to stay in his current location, because the cost of moving would be equal to the rate increase, not to mention the hassle. His current plan is to offer to meet the company halfway at $900 a month or so. He suspects the occupancy — or demand — is high at his complex as sometimes it’s difficult to find a parking space.

I would probably find another apartment in this situation, even if it was just to make a point and because that sort of outrageous increase makes me mad. But maybe there are alternatives.

What would you do in this situation? Has your rent ever gotten too high? Do you have any advice for our Frustrated Renter?

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

See a great deal I should know about? Email me at ldavidson@ajc.com. You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @atlbargains.

23 comments Add your comment

John

February 2nd, 2011
6:07 am

He should start spreading more rumors of sketchiness in the area so the demand decreases!

Christine

February 2nd, 2011
8:24 am

I have been a renter for over 8 years and have never paid an increase in rent when my lease expires. There are always options and the Leasing Office will never tell you about them.

1. First step is to ALWAYS give them a letter of your intent to vacate, even if you plan to stay.

Most leases require a 60 day notice from when your lease expires. If you miss this crucial step, you lose all power to negotiate price. A verbal notice is worthless, it must be a letter and I would always request they make a copy for your records when you hand it to them.

You can always change your mind later and decide to stay. The purpose of the letter is to let them know you can and will move if they don’t work with you, and it helps with negotiating because there will be so many fees you will have to pay if you do decide to move that the leasing office will know they’ve got you if you don’t notify them in writing.

2. Become informed. Don’t go by parking spaces to tell if the occupancy is high.

Generally the apartment company will want you to stay in your apartment because of the cost of cleaning the apartment, putting in new carpet or cleaning the old carpet, painting, etc and losing rent while the apartment sits empty.

Some properties list their prices online. If they don’t, have a friend call and get prices.

With your written notice, you have 2 months to watch current rent prices, which can vary greatly depending on unoccupied units, how many tenants have recently given notice of intent to vacate, what other properties in the area are charging, and the market. Visit comparable properties and see what they are charging for a similar apartment (you can even do this over the phone).

3. Negotiate with knowledge.

Ask for a match in price to what a new renter is paying, or for them to match the price of a neighboring complex. Be straightforward, tell them you honestly cannot afford the increase in rent.

If they still refuse to work with you, when your lease is up, and if another apartment is available within the complex, you can move to a different apartment and it’s listed rate.

I have saved $120 a month or $1440 a year by moving to a nicer apartment one floor up that had a fireplace and hardwood floors. It doesn’t carry the same expense as renting a moving truck, and all deposits should transfer.

Another time I saved $55 a month, or $660 a year simply by watching the current rent prices online, and negotiating when the rent prices were the lowest.

I wrote about my experiences saving rent here (but the gist is above) :
http://frugged.blogspot.com/2008/04/saving-money-on-apartment-rent.html

Pat21

February 2nd, 2011
8:41 am

Or you could just buy one of the many foreclosure condos in the Atlanta area… I’m sure the mortgage wouldn’t top $900 a month.

DoRight

February 2nd, 2011
8:42 am

@Tea Party Meber your idiot!

As to the answer Christine has the answer as well as, it is time to shop around, bargains can be having and moving can be done cheaply.

Browncoat

February 2nd, 2011
8:59 am

Tea Party Meber = Troll

Rule No. 1 – Don’t feed them

dirt bag

February 2nd, 2011
9:00 am

quit renting and buy a house . with the real estate market so low , you can own cheaper than renting

Ted Striker

February 2nd, 2011
9:11 am

Excellent column, Lauren.

I’d ask my neighbors what they were paying, do some comparisons. If it looked like $980 was the price point, I’d definitely shop them. You’re 100% correct: moving is a hassle. Nobody likes it. However if a complex wants your business they’ll either make a concession or you’ll feel better off going to a comparable place where you feel more appreciated.

Cindy

February 2nd, 2011
9:16 am

I like what Christine said. I am actually about to move (due to a slight, yet significant increase for my budget in my current unit), but will be moving within my complex. Everything will transfer over, so I can save some money that way. Also, I HIGHLY recommend ProMove. There’s a location off of Buford and North Druid Hills, and they’re spectacular there! (If Diana N. is still there, see if you can work with her–she’s phenomenal!!) If you only call to find out what the going rate is for your unit, you’re already helping yourself. ProMove can get the cheapest rate, and then you can go back to the management at the complex and negotiate. And if the management is unwilling to negotiate, then ProMove can help find a better place for you to live. They also seem to be able to work with management teams to help out in any way they can–for instance, say you find a place, but the price is a little higher than you wish. ProMove might be able to get a free washer and dryer in the unit to help cut some costs. But more than anything, just be willing to state where you’re coming from. Like some have already said, be honest if you can’t afford the rent increase, and let the management office know what does and doesn’t work for you. Hopefully then, they’ll work with you to figure out a compromise that works.

P F

February 2nd, 2011
9:19 am

Moved into a complex once upon a time. They delayed our move in by 2 weeks because they did not have the apartment ready. They gave us a 2/2 for the price of a 2/1. It was at $650. They raised it to $680 the following year. The second year, I got a letter stating it was going to $850. When I asked why, they said said I needed to start paying for the 2/2. I asked about moving into a 2/1, but they said they did not have any available. We left.

ALI14

February 2nd, 2011
9:40 am

i agree with dirt bag. i live in an apartment and rent goes up every year, and houses are very cheap right now.

also, when rent increases at my apartment complex, we have a choice to renew before a specific date and pay our current rate. if we renew after the specified date, we pay the increased rate. i am wondering if his apartment complex would be willing to make the same kind of offer.

KDAWG

February 2nd, 2011
10:08 am

Same thing happen to me in the same area. Arbor Gates. They jacked mine up after one year and I told them to shove it. They pleaded with me to stay and told me the economy is much better, hence the rate increase (BS!, economy is worse or the same)…but offered no decrease in the rent price. My opinion, don’t put up with it. If you’re lucky enough to get a down payment on a home, do that! otherwise, use Promove or search yourself. I used Promove because I didn’t have the time to look around. Also, I moved with U-Haul and they have much better rates then Penske, cost me, with gas around $85.

Lauren Davidson

February 2nd, 2011
10:14 am

If you have a desire to purchase a house and have been saving, then yeah, now’s the time to do it. But otherwise it’s an enormous financial investment. You have a down payment, maintenance, maybe an HOA…

Christine

February 2nd, 2011
10:18 am

You guys like ProMove? I visited them once and thought it was a waste of time. They lead you to the apartment complexes they have relationships with. I visited the first one they recommended and it had dead roaches in the apartment. I skipped the others on the list. Then again, that was a few years ago when they falsely advertised that if you used ProMove, there was no application fee.

If you “find” your property on rent.com, you get a $100 reward card simply by putting rent.com on your application as referral source.

Jef

February 2nd, 2011
10:26 am

Enter your comments here

Jef

February 2nd, 2011
10:31 am

Doh, so much for enter to go to next line.
Promove is great to get ideas but also explore on your own.

My apartment tried to raise my rent from 770 to 960 this year.
I was going to move elsewhere and had submited my notice.
When December rolled around their prices dropped drastically and I got 400 more sqft. for the 960 price.
If you submit notice, don’t think that means you can still stay. My apt had been rented out by the time their prices dropped.

Rushing into a house is a bad idea if you’re not ready for one, and remember that condos are often very difficult to sell.

atlmom

February 2nd, 2011
10:33 am

Try to move somewhere that isn’t an apt complex. You can negotiate better. You may have to take care of a few more things yourself, but you’re dealing with a real person, not a company. Check out craigslist and those type of websites.
FYI if you’re buying a condo – while your mortgage may be nothing – the condo fees may make it more than rent. Because, well, everyone’s in financial straits at the moment – so lots of people may be making mortgage payments, but not their condo payments, many condos defer maintenance or don’t have sufficient money in reserves.

….full disclosure: I own a few rentals in the area and two of them are condos.

Christine

February 2nd, 2011
10:39 am

It may not always be the case, but you can still stay once you submit notice, even if your unit has been rented. Most complexes won’t kick you out. I have even rented apartments and not been able to move in on time or had to change apartments because the current tenants decided to stay.

Cindy

February 2nd, 2011
11:00 am

Hi Christine! ProMove worked really well for me, but that might have been the person who helped me. She worked with my budget and was open to other ideas I sent her way. I also don’t remember any fees, so I felt it was a win-win situation.

Regarding the house/ condo vs. apartment argument: the housing market is still dropping. For many of us who are moving around a lot due to jobs, etc., a permanent residence is not the way to go. I learned form a young age that houses are actually not an investment, so they really aren’t worth it until one is really ready to settle down–and even so, only if the person actually wants a house.

Craigslist is excellent, too. Negotiations can be far more flexible than complexes, true. There are some great places in Midtown right now, and many are below $800/ month. But do know that some are rented out by property management companies, so you might not have as much sway with them as you would with a landlord.

Overall, I think that the market is pretty iffy right now. Many people are foreclosing on their homes, so they need apartment units–therefore causing a higher demand than normal. But on the flip side, many of us are really struggling in this economy, so some apartments can’t go for the usual asking price.

05girl

February 2nd, 2011
11:15 am

Excellent tips Christine. But what about when the new term price is the same as the new renter price? Is there any wiggle room? (I have a lease ending soon)

Christine

February 2nd, 2011
11:26 am

@05girl I honestly am not sure. I work for an apartment complex, but not in the Leasing Office (I host onsite events).

All I know about the rent price is that it’s determined by several factors that change constantly. I don’t have any experience with an apartment complex going lower than the rate for a new resident. If you have a good relationship with the staff and have been a good resident, I would go talk with the Leasing Manager and make an honest appeal as to what you can afford. It never hurts to ask.

For me, one time when I turned in my letter of intent to vacate, the Leasing staff asked me what my reason was. I simply stated I could not afford the rent increase. She immediately asked what I could afford. I gave her a number, not having done my research and she called me the same day to say they could give it to me at that price. Of course, the price I stated was $20 higher than the lowest rent on their website.

If they have several vacant units on top of several letters to vacate in the near future, I could see them possibly having wiggle room. But I think it also depends if its a huge apartment company with corporate office and multiple locations, or if its one small private apartment complex.

nah

February 2nd, 2011
11:35 am

Same stuff happened to me. They raised my rent from 1045 to 1125…..they refused to come down at all. I went around for a day and only found 1000+ apartments as we need a two bed two bath. Luckily we kept looking a found an apartment that is nicer and in a better location for 800 dollars a month. There are deals out their….you just gotta be willing to look. Some places are hurting to get residents to move in.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Best Sale Prices, ATL Bargain Hunter. ATL Bargain Hunter said: Our Frustrated Renter needs your advice. What would you do if your apartment complex jacked up your rent? http://bit.ly/eNXIyQ [...]

Full time landlord

February 3rd, 2011
8:49 am

Rental increases; There is a lot of propaganda floating around about the rental market being tight. As someone that has been in the business over 11 yrs and has several friends in the same line of work, it is not so. Unemployment is still high and families are still doubling up,hence landlords are still scrambling. However, once our economy recovers, rent will go up and the smart ones will be tied in to long term leases (2yrs+)or will be homeowners. Anyway, if you want to get a better rental rate do the following; 1) Research market rates and know the property’s weaknesses 2) If possible rent a place in Jan. or Dec.(worst time of yr) 3) Look at individual properties, not just lg apt complexes. Also, it costs the landlord on avg. 10% of the rent in addition to 1st month’s rent to use a management company. Individual landlords usually have less overhead and more wiggle room. While it may be easier to use Promove, it may not produce the most economical results.

Buying a property- I would advise against buying a condo or into a HOA to minimize costs. In addition to the regular fees, there are special assessments. It is not unusual to get hit with a special assessment in a condo community for 1-2k for a new roof or other major repair. On the other hand single family homes are a bargain right now. It is best to make sure the purchase has great rentability, in case you have a job transfer or other life changing event. No one knows where they will be in 5 yrs, so buying like you will stay in a home for the next 5 yrs is pointless. Go on present value, not unknown (appreciation or future prospect) A home with great rentability is usually one in a great location(good sch. dist) and the payments are 60% or less than market rent. A good example would be one I saw in a neighborhood that rents for $1100-$1200. It is on the market for $66k and the payments would be approx $500 a month PITI. And it is in one of Gwinnett’s best school districts.