Spring and summer are traditionally the busiest times in real estate, for both homes and apartments. Home shopping is more pleasant in the balmier months, moving is typically easier, and longer, sunnier days tend to give people more time to search for new digs.
Yet whether someone is hunting for a new home or staying put, tough decisions could await many this spring. For apartment tenants who found a home during the busy months of last year, lease renewals are likely approaching. And that could mean rent hikes.
But a landlord's asking price is never final -- especially in today's market. Here are some tips for negotiating.
--Know your rights.
In many states, before a landlord can increase rent, a tenant's lease must be expiring; rent cannot be changed during an active lease. In addition, your state or city may require landlords to provide advanced, written notice of any rental price change.
Often, individual leases dictate how far in advance landlords must notify tenants -- typically requiring 30 or 60 days. Even if a lease does not specify, state law often does. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for example, require landlords to give a 30-day warning of a price change before a residential, market-rate lease ends. If a landlord does not, "they cannot increase the rent," said George Gould, a senior attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia is even more specific: Unless a lease stipulates a longer period, the Philadelphia Code requires landlords to notify tenants 60 days before they increase rent for year-to-year leases, and 30 days before for shorter leases.
When it comes to actually raising the rent, however, Pennsylvania offers fewer restrictions. Pennsylvania has no statewide laws governing rent increases for market-rate units -- meaning, in theory, landlords can hike rent as much as they want. New Jersey, similarly, has no statewide law, though nearly 100 municipalities have enacted rent-control ordinances that set increase limits.
New Jersey does, however, stipulate that rent increases may not be "unconscionable." Though no formal definition of "unconscionable" exists, Legal Services of New Jersey interprets it as any increase that is "extremely harsh" or "unreasonable." In some cases, the nonprofit says, that could mean a 20 percent hike, or even a 5 percent increase if the building's conditions are very bad.
--Understand the market.