Rents are rocketing all over the country, according to a report from Trulia. The real estate listing site found median rents hit $1,350 a month in March 2012, up from $1,285 one year earlier. Prices in Sarasota, Florida, rose 12.9 percent in the 12 months to March 2012, while tenants in Miami and San Francisco saw their monthly accommodation costs shoot up 12.1 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively, over the same period. If your landlord has hiked your rent to a level you think is unfair, you may be able to fight back.
Check out your contract. If you signed a fixed-term agreement with your landlord you'll typically be charged the same monthly rent for the duration of your stay unless your contract includes a midlease rent increase. If you have a month-to-month rolling agreement, your landlord can raise your rent pretty much when she likes after giving you a month's notice. You'll have a choice between paying up or shipping out if you fall into the latter group and can't trip your landlord up on any other points. In the future, it might be better to stick to fixed deals so you know just where you are.
Although landlords are typically free to raise rents as demand dictates, some municipalities run rent control and rent stabilization programs that limit how much protected tenants can be charged. This is designed to protect vulnerable tenants from being ripped off by dodgy landlords. New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles all run rent control programs, but which tenants and which properties are protected can vary widely. Contact your local housing department or fair rent commission if your landlord has increased your rent to find out if you qualify as a protected tenant.
Fair Housing Rules
Your landlord can't increase your rent on the grounds of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status, sexual orientation or disability under the terms of the Fair Housing Act. It's illegal. She also won't be able to increase your rent to get back at you after you've made a complaint about your rented pad or asked for repairs to be carried out. Contact your local Housing and Urban Development office if you feel your landlord has increased your rent unfairly.
Try to negotiate if your landlord proposes a rent increase you feel is unfair. Offer to sign a longer lease in return for a reduction in rent, or suggest that you'd be happy to carry out maintenance work around your rented home in return for a smaller increase in what you have to pay. Compare the local rental market to see what similar properties to yours are renting for. If they're going for a lot less, tell your landlord. If she refuses to budge on rent, call her bluff and say you'll be forced to find somewhere cheaper and move out. Your landlord might reconsider when confronted with the prospect of having to find new tenants.
Michael Roennevig has been a journalist since 2003. He has written on politics, the arts, travel and society for publications such as "The Big Issue" and "Which?" Roennevig holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Surrey Institute and a postgraduate diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists at City College, Brighton.