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Rent hikes are back: What can tenants do?

It's not just home prices soaring in 2021; rents are up, too
Posted at 10:00 AM, Jun 01, 2021

It's not just home prices that are rising to wild levels this year. Rents are following them up, as well, and some renters say they may have to move.

Barbara Hill-Kelley is among the many tenants hit with rent hikes this year. She opened her door the other day to find a note posted that her rent was going up -- way up.

"They're crazy," she said. "I said, 'There's got to be a mistake.'"

But it was no mistake. According to the note from the leasing office, the complex is raising her rent to $875 a month, more than another $100 a month for her two-bedroom apartment.

"Another $117, to be exact, per month," she said.

But her apartment -- a 1970s-era complex with wood visibly peeling on its decks -- has not been updated in years.

"That's crazy; that's an additional $1,200 per year," the home health aide said.

Stories like Hill-Kelley's are taking place nationwide, as the red-hot housing market spills over into the rental market.

Barbara Hill-Kelly.JPG
Barbara Hill-Kelley

What options tenants have

So what can you do if your landlord hits you with a 10- or 15-percent rent hike?

The good news is they can't raise your rent when you are under a lease. But when your lease is up, landlords can raise it with just 30 days' notice, according to Nick DiNardo, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society

"There is no rent control in most areas," he said (with the exception of New York City, Chicago, and several other cities). "So, technically, the landlord can raise the rent as much as they want to."

DiNardo suggests tenants use sugar, not spice, to try to get the rent hike reduced. He also suggests explaining why you can't afford the hike.

"What we usually tell people is the best thing to do in this circumstance is try to negotiate something from the landlord," he said.

Many landlords would rather reduce a rent hike by a few dollars than have to take the time and expense to clean the apartment and find a new tenant, DiNardo said.

Apartment at The Views.JPG
Apartment at The Views

Rents hitting all-time highs in 2021

According to real estate analysts Yardi Matrix, these are the biggest reasons for the increases:

  • High demand from home-buyers who can no longer find affordable homes to buy. This is especially impacting the rental home market, where rents have risen even faster than apartments.
  • Rising management and maintenance costs
  • Property tax hikes hitting landlords hard.

As for Barbara Hill-Kelley's case, after we contacted the management company, they told her they would be rehabbing her aging kitchen as part of the rent increase.

Still, Hill-Kelley and her husband worry they may have to move to a cheaper apartment.

"I'm gonna have to work more, and we're gonna have to save, from now until July, to move," she said.

Caution about month-to-month leases

Many tenants like month-to-month leases, which give them flexibility.

But Legal Aid says you should realize that you have no way to prevent a sudden rent hike during these volatile times for renting.

So you may want to lock in for a year for some peace of mind, so you don't waste your money.

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