Remember, a lease is an agreement, not an unconditional surrender. Don’t sign on that dotted line until you’re satisfied with what you’re getting.
Step 1: Check online for tenant rights Check online for the tenant rights in your city and state. Know exactly what a landlord can and can’t include in a lease.
Step 2: Research markets Research the housing and rental markets in the immediate area. Ask around to find out what other tenants and neighbors are paying, and if they have any special deals with the landlord. If they do, you should too.
TIP: A building’s super is a gold mine of information. Ask them what the previous tenant was paying and if the apartment has any hidden problems – like bad plumbing, noisy neighbors, mysterious odors, etc. And don’t forget to tip them for helping you out – you may be living there soon.
Step 3: Ask for copy of lease Ask the landlord for a copy of the lease before agreeing to move in and thoroughly review it. Make note of any stipulations that are NOT in your favor.
Step 4: Let landlord know issues Now that you’re intimate with all the details – and possible drawbacks – of the apartment, inform the landlord that you really want to move in, but there are a few 'issues' you’d like to 'iron out' first. Landlords hate 'issues.'
TIP: Make sure you have a backup plan. Line up another possible apartment (or two) and be prepared to walk away if it comes to that. Do not let yourself be bullied into an unfavorable agreement.
Step 5: Make counteroffer If and when the landlord is ready to talk, you should immediately – and without explanation – make a counteroffer on the amount of rent you’ll pay. A 5% reduction is a good starting point.
Step 6: List reasons you should pay less Weather the landlord’s tirade, then calmly list all the reasons you should be paying less: the average neighborhood rents are lower than what he’s asking, the building has a bug problem, the nearest bus stop is a mile away, etc.
TIP: Always be calm, polite and professional, and if you’ve got any charm, turn it on. Make sure the landlord understands you’re negotiating in good faith and it’s not personal – you’re just looking out for #1 (that’s you). Landlords love 'looking out for #1.'
Step 7: Offer lower reduction If the landlord won’t budge off the amount of rent, offer a lower reduction, say 3 percent, as a compromise. If they still won’t budge, focus on another area – like getting certain utilities or services included in the rent, or reducing the security deposit.
TIP: If you have the skills, time, and inclination, offer to perform some basic maintenance services in return for a reduction in rent.
Step 8: Get settlements in writing Always get any negotiated settlements in writing – once you do, shake hands with your new business partner, and sign away.
FACT: Members of the military who receive orders to relocate may break an apartment lease without penalty.