TEXT OF INTERVIEW
TESS VIGELAND: Checked the Craigslist apartment ads lately? Well in hot spots like San Francisco and New York, you probably won’t see much change. But in lots of other places rent is down. Janet Portman is an attorney who’s written guides for landlords. She talked to us about the best ways to negotiate rent.
Janet Portman: When you’re renting an apartment or a home, it’s not the same thing as, for instance, buying a car. You can go to the Toyota dealer and pretty much insist that dealer drop his price. Let’s face it, you’re not going to have to deal with that guy in the future. That’s not the case with your landlord. And I think it’s important to step back further and think to yourself, well what happens in a tight market? The landlord’s got 17 applicants lined up, he raises the rent simply because he can. He’s taking advantage. We call landlords like that greedy and gouging landlords. Well, the tables are turned in a soft market. If you say to the landlord, I know it’s market rent, but I’m going to press you to drop it further, it’s not a good way to start off your relationship, because unlike the car dealer, you’re going to have a lot to do with this landlord in the future.
VIGELAND: So you don’t want to be the greedy, gouging tenet?
Portman: Right. You don’t say I want you to drop the price because you’re desperate. What you do say is, I’m going to give you something in return that’s going to make it worthwhile, namely I am a trouble-free tenant who’s going to pay the rent on time, not damage the property, not hassle the neighbors, stay there for a long time or at least the length of your lease. That is the tit for tat that you’re setting up with the landlord.
VIGELAND: What if you have already proven that you’re a great tenant? You’re in an apartment and you’re seeing that rents are dropping in your neighborhood in similar units. You decide that you really don’t want to move, but you’d like to see a similar price?
Portman: There’s no law against going back to the landlord and saying look, here’s the situation: the value of this apartment has dropped by, say, by $100. If we look at the comparables, if we look at what you’re renting in this building now, they’re going for less. I’d like you to work with me in dropping the price. The landlord is thinking, are you nuts? But if he thinks a little further, he’s going to be re-renting for that lower rent that he has refused to offer to you. And that makes no sense.
VIGELAND: So you’re really appealing to the hopefully rational side of your landlord.
Portman: Well, you know, most landlords who are professionals, they understand this. They know that the industry standard is two months of vacancy turnover time, and they know the value of a good tenant who doesn’t cause hassles is more valuable than an extra couple of hundred dollars per month.
VIGELAND: Janet, are there any situations that renters should be wary of in this kind of market?
Portman: A lot of properties are on the market, particularly single-family homes that are now looking rather attractive to investors who, for obvious reasons, are not that attracted to putting money in the stock market. That person is really not a professional landlord, is not someone who basically knows what they’re doing. And for the tenant that spells headaches. The first thing you’d want to know is, what’s the history of this house? Did it have vandals while they sat vacant? The banks held them but did nothing to keep them up? Cosmetic fixes can hide problems that perhaps have not been adequately addressed by the new landlord.
VIGELAND: Janet Portman is an attorney and the author most recently of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide.” Thanks so much for your help today.
Portman: You’re very welcome.
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