Real Estate

How Soon Is Too Soon to Ask My Landlord About a Rent Increase?

Q: For nine years, my husband and I have rented a market-rate apartment on the Upper West Side. The building recently changed ownership, and during the transition apartments were intentionally left vacant until the new owners took over. Now that new management is running the building, comparable units to ours are renting at much higher rents than what we pay. Our lease comes up for renewal in October and we are concerned about the potential increase we could face. Should we ask the landlord about the renewal terms early, or is it better to wait? How might we approach the conversation?

A: You have reason to be concerned. In June, the median rent in Manhattan was $4,050 a month, up almost 25 percent from the same time a year ago, according to Douglas Elliman. And there is little hope that the conditions will improve by October, when your lease comes up for renewal.

Your new management has made it clear that it plans to raise rents considerably. “The writing is on the wall,” said Keyan Sanai, a real estate salesman at Douglas Elliman, adding, “They might hit them with an unfair increase just to get them out.”

Because you’ve lived in your apartment for more than two years, your landlord must give you 90 days of notice if your rent will rise by more than 5 percent or if your lease will not be renewed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for information even earlier.

Write your landlord, asking for information about your lease renewal. Explain that you’re trying to plan out your budget and would like details about the terms of your lease renewal. Simply asking this question shouldn’t change your landlord’s calculations — that decision has likely already been made.

“The best thing they can do is get a head start on the search, instead of living on a prayer,” Mr. Sanai said.

If the rent increase is reasonable, or close to reasonable, ask if there is room for negotiation. Perhaps you could lock in a two-year lease at a slightly lower rent than what the landlord requested. But if you get no response, or get news that rates are headed way out of your range, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

Research neighborhoods and buildings to find ones that fit your budget. Talk to real estate agents and property managers now, explaining that you would like to sign a new lease in the fall. Ask if they would alert you to upcoming vacancies before the apartments hit the market, giving you an edge. The sooner you know what’s coming, the sooner you can start planning your next move.

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