If you’ve been living in the U.S. these past few years, you know that rental rates have skyrocketed. Because of this, many renters cannot avoid spending more than the recommended 30% of their gross monthly income. This makes it all the more aggravating to find out your monthly rent has been raised by your landlord before your contract is up.
Raising rent can make sense in certain cases such as the market value going up. However, in other circumstances, a rent increase may be unnecessary or downright illegal.
It’s important to be educated on what can and can’t be done when it comes to your lease. Here is what you should know about your tenant rights and what you can do about it.
Can your landlord raise the rent?
The short answer to whether or not your landlord can raise your rent is yes and no. The city you live in, rent control laws and your lease will determine if it is legal or not. These are the circumstances when your landlord can and can not raise the rent.
If you signed a month-to-month lease, landlords are within their rights to raise the rent at the end of each month. Similar to a 12-month lease, a monthly lease is still a binding contract. So your landlord would still be required to give you advance notice (generally about 30 days) and can only raise the rent at the end of the month.
Typically, rent increases occur when your lease is up. So if you signed a year-long lease and your landlord tried to raise the rent six months in, that is not acceptable. Rent increases are only legal once the 12-month lease has finished.
The terms and conditions of your rent should all be laid out clearly in the rental agreement you sign at the beginning of your tenancy. Unless stated otherwise in the lease agreement, yearly and monthly rent increases are only allowed under the above conditions. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly read through and understand your rental agreement.
Keep in mind that a rent increase can also impact your security deposit. Since the rent is now higher, you may have to up the amount of the deposit as well.
There are some circumstances under which your landlord legally cannot raise your rent. The first is without providing adequate notice. This is generally is about 30 days ahead of the proposed increase. It’s also illegal for a landlord to increase rent for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation for previous conflicts.
If you believe the rent increase is in response to a past conflict you had with the landlord or because they are discriminating against you based on your race, gender, sexual orientation or other reason, those are grounds to possibly have the increase overturned.
What to do if your landlord raises your rent
Receiving a rent increase is jarring and upsetting for anyone, especially since rent is already inflated. Finding out you may have to pay more or move is bound to trigger some strong emotions.
But you’re not without recourse and options for how to handle the situation. If you receive a rent increase notice and are unsure what to do, there are a few steps you can take.
1. Know your city’s laws
Renter’s rights can vary widely at both city and state levels. What’s legal in one city in your state isn’t always legal for other cities you may live in. This is why it’s crucial that, if you learn of a rent increase, you check your local laws.
This can pertain to whether the timing of the notice is legal, or if the increased amount is legal. Some states or cities don’t have set or maximum amounts for rent increases, leaving it up to the landlord’s discretion. So if there are no laws that set a cap or limit, your landlord can hike up the rent as much as they see fit.
2. Get it in writing
In most states, it’s required that any rent increase notice be served to the tenant in written form. This could be as a letter or email. If your landlord verbally told you they will raise the rent, that is not legal. If your landlord is trying to raise your rent and doesn’t provide written proof, that’s evidence you may use in case the situation goes to court.
3. Double-check your lease
Read through your lease to make sure that the rent increase notice is legal. This includes checking that the notice arrives in an appropriate time frame and adheres to any other relevant clauses.
4. Report any illegal actions to the proper authorities
If you determine that the rent increase is unlawful for whatever reason, you should report your landlord to the respective authorities in your area. This could be a local government agency or department related to housing or a housing and tenants’ rights advocacy group. They can point you in the right direction.
5. Speak with your landlord
Assuming the rent increase is legal, you still may not want to pay it. Maybe you are unable to afford the new proposed amount. Maybe you feel that based on your good rental history in that unit, it’s unnecessary or unjustified. Whatever the reason, you can try to negotiate with your landlord. You can do this in two ways.
The first would be to send them a rent negotiation letter. In the letter, you should describe in clear terms why you can’t or don’t think you should pay the increase.
You can detail your financial situation, or make reference to your rental history. Have you always paid the rent on time and in full? Are you a model tenant? Highlight those reasons the landlord will want to keep you on as a renter.
You can also arrange a meeting or call your landlord to negotiate the rent increase. When doing this, make the same points as you would in a negotiation letter but are able to have a straightforward conversation.
6. Organize with the other tenants
If all other attempts to negotiate with your landlord have failed, you may find strength in numbers. Check with the other tenants in your building to see if they are OK with the rent increase.
Collective action is a powerful tool. If the majority of the building opposes the rent increase and the landlord moves forward, they could be facing multiple people moving out at the same time. This gives them more work to suddenly try to fill the empty units. Having reliable, trustworthy tenants makes their job easier. This incentivizes them to work in good faith with the tenants they have.
7. Pay the increased amount
Unfortunately, if your landlord won’t budge and they are within their rights then you will have to pay the increased rent or find a new apartment to rent.
Getting a rent increase notice isn’t the be-all, end-all
Unless you live in a city with rent control, occasionally dealing with rent increases is, unfortunately, a necessary part of a renter’s life. Sometimes they can also feel very unfair. But by using the above resources, you can fight or even stop a rent increase.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.