Want to renegotiate your rent? Follow this 3-step plan

Emily Pandise

With the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on jobs and wages, many city-dwellers are moving out or shacking up with family outside of major urban areas — and rents are trending down as a result. According to data from Zillow, median rents in metro centers across the country are falling — since February, rents are down between 3 and 4% in cities like New York, Dallas, Denver, Seattle and Washington, DC, to name a few. Rental concessions, discounts or perks like free parking or rent, are almost twice as common as they were in February, according to Zillow.

What does that mean for your wallet? If the fair market value of your rental has gone down, there may be some room for you to get a better deal, according to NBC News senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle. “In cities like San Francisco and New York, where we’d been experiencing actual bidding wars on rentals prior to COVID-19, this unforeseen demand shift, at the very least, has given renters the power to negotiate,” Ruhle said.

Related: One tenant said she told her landlord, "There's got to be something for people affected by Covid," and the landlord responded, "There's nothing we can do."

Here are a few easy steps to make it happen:

1. Do your homework.

You can’t really negotiate your expenses down if you don’t know what they should be — so find out. “You need to understand the inventory, if price cuts are happening for similar homes or units, how long things are on the market — those are all really important data points to understand and arm yourself with and to understand what’s realistic to ask for,” said Lauren Riefflin, director of communications at StreetEasy, a New York City-based apartment listing company. Riefflin said it’s also important to understand what’s going on in your building. “Use your online tools, if you have neighbors that you feel comfortable talking to, ask them what they’re seeing. Of course, talk to your landlord, but talk to them upfront and be honest.”

Look online to find out what rentals comparable to yours are going for right now. And don’t only look at the hot new places. If there are listings that are a couple of weeks or even months old, that will give you a better idea of what is actually happening.

Related: Real estate listings aren't the only way to find that perfect house.

2. Time your conversation right.

When it comes to timing, there are two things to keep in mind: your financial situation and where you are in your lease. If you’re out of work or dealing with reduced income because of the pandemic, you should bring this up with your landlord before you’re behind on payments. “Wasting this opportunity to negotiate by simply defaulting on rent payments won’t help your credit rating, your relationship with your landlord or your anxiety and well-being,” Ruhle explained. Most likely your landlord would rather have a smaller rent payment from you than no rent payment at all, so bring it up stat.

If you’re talking to your landlord to get a fairer price, think a few months out from when your lease is up. Riefflin said many times there is a clause in your lease about how much notice to give your landlord before you leave, and that will be your guide. “Have the conversation before you hit that marker,” she explained. “If you need to give 90 day’s notice, have the conversation a month before that.”

Related: Bills piling up? You're not alone — but there is a way to face your finances head on.

3. Have the talk and be flexible.

Bring your research and talk to your landlord — tell them how much rental prices have gone down recently, and if there is any way to match it. “The most important part is having the conversation, having evidence and objective information, and giving [your landlord] time to think about it,” Riefflin said. Her next tip: “Make sure everything is in writing,” she said. “If it’s a live conversation over the phone, follow up with something written down, over email — an addendum to the lease — saying that both tenant and landlord have agreed to the terms.”

If your landlord can’t meet you on your suggested rent, try to be flexible. You can also ask for some of those rental concessions, like a month’s rent free or another perk. Emphasize that you’ve been a great tenant and want to stay a great tenant with them for a long time. Remember, your landlord is human, too. “If you’re a responsible and good-standing tenant, they’re going to want to preserve you as a tenant,” Riefflin said. “Thinking about what they want, and giving them time to think about what’s realistic (is essential) to making this relationship work.”