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Ask a Tenant Lawyer: How to Get your Landlord to Reduce your Rent

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Ask a Tenants Right’s Lawyer is your chance to learn how to survive as a renter in San Francisco.  Attorney Daniel Wayne has a lot of the information you need to keep you in your home.  This month’s topic: When tenant’s should file a complaint with the city . Got a question? Send an email to alex@brokeassstuart.com and we will forward it on.

How to Get your Landlord to Reduce your Rent

Many of us would gladly welcome a rent reduction. It’s already difficult enough making the monthly rent during “normal” times in the Bay Area but throw in a pandemic during which we’ve seen a massive spike in unemployment, and it can be overwhelming. The largest expense for most people is housing. The good news is that with people leaving the Bay Area in droves this year, rental prices have dropped, and vacancy rates have gone up. In a housing market strongly impacted by the uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak, some renters have already successfully gotten their landlords to agree to a lower rent. If you want to do the same, it pays to do your research and have an organized game plan before you proceed.

Approaching Your Landlord – Have a Reason for Seeking a Rent Reduction

A natural starting point is stating your needs for the reduction. Beyond the obvious desire of just wanting to pay less, there are some valid reasons that you can give when you communicate with your landlord about lowering your rent.

Similar units in comparable properties are charging less

This is frankly the big one. Since the price of rentals go up to keep pace with the housing market, find comparable rentals in your neighborhood that are lower priced, and use this information in your negotiations with your landlord to show that you can move to a less expensive place if necessary. Just show listings of units that are similar to yours that are currently advertised for a lot less. You can ask friends and neighbors to find out what they’re paying and/or do some online research. Of course, if you’re going to bring this up, be prepared to actually move if your landlord calls your bluff or live with the rent as is.

Financial issues

You might be experiencing financial problems that you couldn’t have anticipated. Whether this means being furloughed, laid off, or experiencing an overall drop in your income because of the coronavirus pandemic or having unexpected health care costs, a reduction in your rent could provide some relief. If this is the case, make sure that you make it known to your landlord or property manager. Be honest about your situation and emphasize that you have always been a responsible tenant, but that your current position was unexpected. Provide any proof of your financial hardships, such as any records of furloughs, layoffs, or any pay cuts, or just show your pay stubs prior to the pandemic compared to after the national emergency was declared.

Mention your Status as a Good Tenant

In addition to using your research about comparable properties in the area and lack of amenities, you will want to use your own personal background as a stable tenant to further your case. Mention that your payments have always been on time and that your apartment is always maintained and in good condition. In other words, you are someone that they want to keep around; an empty apartment will cost the property owner. Additionally, you could offer to sign a longer lease.

Timing for Negotiating a Rent Reduction

Although you can ask at any time, if you are locked into a year lease then you have significantly less leverage. Your lease is a contract. And like most contracts, it is legally binding. Just as your landlord is bound to provide you with a useable place to live, so to are you obligated to pay the rent you agreed to.

The ideal time to approach your landlord about a rent reduction is if you are on a month to month lease (after your first year for most tenants), or if your lease is up for renewal. This is when you have the most leverage because if you move out, your landlord is going to have to find someone else. The landlord or property manager is more inclined to listen because they likely want you to stay if you’ve been a good tenant and paying on time up until this point.

However, it’s always preferable to begin early because negotiations might take some time. You also want to show that you’re being proactive, so mentioning this before your rent for the next month is dues is a good move. It will make you appear responsible and that you’re trying to resolve issues before they get out of control.

Rent Control!

Many Landlords may offer you a temporary rent reduction. While it is all helpful, a thing to keep in mind is that this is an excellent time to lock in a new, lower rent in a rent controlled apartment. For example. If you pay $3,500 for a rent controlled one bedroom apartment and your landlord offers you a temporary rent reduction you may be missing out on an opportunity to rent a one bedroom elsewhere at a lower rent. Many landlords are giving deals right now, including free rent.

On the flip side, many of the deals we are seeing in the market are in large, newly constructed buildings which are not subject to the same rent control rules as older buildings. If you opt to move to one of these new places be prepared for a sizable bump up in rent when your lease ends if the market rebounds.

Get Everything in Writing

When you finally are negotiating with your landlord, make sure that anything they agree to is put in writing. You don’t want to be in the position of having them agree to a rent reduction and then changing their mind and backing out of the agreement later or later trying to claim that you owe them back rent. This does not mean you need to sign a new lease. A simple email that reflects the agreement is generally good enough to protect your interests.

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Daniel Wayne - Tenant's Rights Attorney

Daniel Wayne - Tenant's Rights Attorney

Daniel Wayne is a San Francisco based tenants rights attorney and the managing partner of Wolford Wayne LLP. His firm focuses on protecting and asserting the rights of residential tenants throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He is an active member of the California State Bar, the San Francisco Bar Association, and the Tenants Together Network. He is a regular volunteer at the San Francisco Tenant's Union, and has appeared on 91.7 FM KALW's "Know Your Legal Rights" Program. He received the Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service award from the San Francisco Bar Association in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and has been named a Super Lawyer Rising Star each of the past three years, an honor bestowed on the top 2.5% of Attorneys in their first 10 years of practice. He is originally from Seattle, Washington and makes his home here in San Francisco. You can follow him on twitter at @sftenantlaw or visit his website: www.wolford-wayne.com for more information.

2 Comments

  1. Eliza
    January 7, 2021 at 12:01 pm — Reply

    This is perfect timing for me! I live in an apartment complex that is now advertising units with the same floor plan as my own at cheaper rent. My partner and I have been planning on talking to the building managers about reducing our rent, but weren’t sure where to start. Any advice for someone in a corporate-owned building dealing with middleman building managers?

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