When You Can Negotiate an Apartment Lease and When to Walk Away

by Thursday Bram · 12 comments


An apartment lease is a contract just like any other: there is no one set contract that you have to always adhere to if you want to rent an apartment. As long as the landlord is willing, you can negotiate the terms and make sure that you get the best deal possible.

It’s significantly easier to negotiate if you know at least a little about what is happening with local rentals: if you’re living in an area where there just aren’t a lot of apartments available right now, you can negotiate yourself right out of an apartment if you’re not careful. But if you know a landlord is having difficulty keeping all of his apartments full, you’ll be aware of opportunities to get the most out of the deal.

Leases Are About More than Money

We all want the lowest possible rent for an apartment, but that can be one of the hardest points to negotiate in a lease: most landlords think in terms of rent when calculating expenses for their properties and when they think about the money they need to take home. There are some opportunities to get a lower rate — if you’re willing to lock yourself into a longer lease, for instance, you can often get the landlord to drop the monthly rent at least a little. But, depending on your needs, there are several other opportunities for negotiating.

Every clause in a lease can be negotiated, from the date when your lease expires to whether or not you can have a pet. There are certain considerations that a landlord may ask for a higher rent for (like a shorter lease), but that’s why it’s a negotiation. You can discuss whether you’ll be allowed to make any major changes to the apartment, request improvements to be made before you move in, ask for more amenities like parking and even discuss who will cover the cost of the utilities. It’s rare that you can convince a landlord to give you every consideration that you’d like, but you can get negotiate for those that are particularly important to you. Be sure to make a note of what terms in the lease are important to you and where you’re able to give ground when you start negotiating, preferably before you even start looking for apartments.

The rules governing supply and demand dictate when you can negotiate the best deals. There is always a little room for negotiating — even in the best rental markets, landlords want to get tenants moved in and paying rent as quickly as possible — but there’s always a lot more room when there’s a large supply of available apartments.

Considering Big Apartment Complexes

Many large apartment complexes are run by big companies — the person showing you around and going over the lease with you is likely an employee who doesn’t have a lot of room to negotiate. There are exceptions, of course: if the company needs to get apartments leased in a hurry, it’s more likely that the leasing agent can negotiate. It’s always worth a try, especially if you like the apartment, but be aware that you may face some hurdles.

You may also have a harder time renegotiating your lease at renewal time if you want to stay in a big complex — many have written their contracts so they can automatically raise rents if you renew, making a simple renewal harder. And if you’re in a popular complex with a waiting list for apartments, not agreeing to higher rates can mean checking the cost of a moving truck.

There is, sometimes, more room to negotiate on amenities at larger apartment complexes: while a leasing agent may not be able to budge on rent, he may be able to offer you a different parking arrangement or similar benefit. You won’t know what’s really available until you ask.

Walking Away From a Lease Negotiation

If you’ve got the room to walk away, you’re always in a stronger negotiating position. But that does mean that, sometimes, your best option is to walk away. Even if you are asking for changes in the lease that are reasonable considering what’s happening with the rental market in your area, you may find that a landlord is unwilling to negotiate. That should be a sign to give up on the negotiations and get back to looking for an apartment.

The final decision to walk away always has to come down to the specific situation you’re facing. Sometimes there are outside constraints that mean that you have to move quickly, eliminating the ability to negotiate effectively. If that’s the case, you may have to stick with a deal that, at other times, you would walk away from.

Lease negotiations should also be considered an opportunity to get to know your landlord — after all, this is the person who will be responsible for fixing your home for the length of the lease. If the landlord is most concerned with how much money he’s getting out of the lease, rather than any other part of the negotiation, that may be a warning sign that getting him to pay for repairs could be tough. Use the negotiation process as a chance to learn about your prospective landlord — and if anything feels wrong, pass on the apartment.

Landlords can be inflexible for two reasons: they can either have reached the lowest point they can afford to offer an apartment for and still meet their own expenses or they can simply be inflexible. It can take some careful digging to determine which is actually the case. In the first situation, you may actually have a deal on your hands. But if a landlord isn’t interested in negotiating simply because he’s not interested in looking at alternatives to his current requests, you’re left with only two options. Pay what the landlord is asking or walk away from the negotiation.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenna September 1, 2010 at 8:10 am

Two things that have really helped my friends when negotiating rent have been to give praise “I’d really love to live here, but…” or “This apartment is in a beautiful location, but…” and having proof of other rental options. Nearby location print outs of Craigslist ads for example.

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Andrew September 1, 2010 at 9:35 am

These are great tips. I always have trouble knowing when it makes sense to negotiate or when to pack up and walk away. I think before we begin negotiating, we need to decide what our leverage is or what our other options are.

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Seo Guru September 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm

When negotiating for an apartment, I make it a point not to show my eagerness to get the apartment even if I really like it. This gives me some room to negotiate and get a lower rent. Some real estate agents will see your facial expression that you really like it and that will give the upper hand of the negotiation.

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remy September 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

i always have a headache looking for and negotiating apt leases. These are great tips, but I like to stay in the hot spots of town and there is such high demand that the agents always just scoff it off and are like.. ehhhh, no bueno, take it or leave it.

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Cd Phi September 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I’m actually currently looking to move into my apartment so I do have some experience with landlords. I can tell you one thing that lots of places are allowing tenants to lease on a month to month basis solely because it’s so hard right now to find people who want to lease an apartment. Month to month was important for me.

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Moneyedup September 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I really like that picture. If I had a loft in the city that is exactly what I’d want.

Having the power to walk away is often the only leverage you will have in negotiating a lease. You can’t get emotionally attached. Although if I were renting a place like the one in the picture it may be easier said than done.

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Roscoe September 16, 2010 at 10:22 am

There’s some really scary and potentially illegal advice in this article. Any upstanding landlord, leasing agent, or real estate professional is bound by the law to show no preference to individuals based on several classes whenever selling or leasing real estate.

Encouraging prospective renters to pressure leasing agents into “negotiating” puts the leasing staff in a very uncomfortable situation, and likely will make you a less desirable renter. Please do more research into Fair Housing, how “testing” works for demonstrating compliance with fair housing, and talk to some more rental industry professionals and trade associations before encouraging consumers to engage in activity that may be unethical for them and their companies.

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apartment lease September 22, 2010 at 9:23 am

i feel one of the most efficient ways to negotiate is not to so one’s eagerness in getting the apartment. that may compel the landowner to reduce the rent a bit.

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Nancy G January 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Roscoe raises a very important point. Many landlords cannot negotiate because of the importance of treating all applicants the same and not discriminating against applicants on the basis of race, color, national origins, etc. Those protected categories vary by state as well.

In addition, many states have strict limits on what can and cannot be negotiated. In Massachusetts, for example, a higher security deposit is not legal, nor are certain advance payments.

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Yupp July 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm

First off I don’t buy into the concept that negotiating a lease falls under discrimination laws ….I see this as an excuse to not negotiate & I would assume those posts are by realtors.

Here are my tips based on experience…. the situation will dictate which to use:
1) privately owned properties will negotiate more than huge apt. complexes
2) set your target price & walk away price before meeting & stick to it
3) to justify your proposed price decrease try this line “most apt complexes are offering free 1st month rent”. It’s common enough that people buy the logic.
4) if proposing a lower price make a concession of a 13-14 month lease; don’t over extend on term though. …it’s not necessary.
5) if proposing a lower price & you have available cash state that you will pay a few months up front (e.g. 3 months). This works great if it’s someone that privately owns a property & you know it’s been vacant for a while. Chances are they are paying 2 mortgages & cash in hand is valuable.
6) don’t be shy about asking for what you want, many people don’t feel comfortable negotiating so you’ll need to break out of your comfort zone

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Shane February 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Nice tips, i prefer to stay out of large complexes because of the noise level and you never seem to get good neighbors. But you have made some awesome suggestions.

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Arminius Aurelius September 4, 2014 at 10:18 am

Back in 1993 I moved from Massachusetts to Newport , R.I. Wanted to rent a 3 bedroom , 2 bath , large living room , dining room and a balcony overlooking the water . The landlord asked $ 1800.00 a month and I offered $ 1600.00 a month BUT I would pay her the full years rent $ 19,200.00 CASH up front . She happily took it . I saved $ 2400.00 .

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