You’ve probably heard the guideline that rent should account for around 30% of your monthly spending. You could possibly go over that 30% figure and devote a little extra cash to housing expenses if your budget allows or if there are significant perks—you can walk to work and don’t have to pay to commute, for example. Spending a significant amount more can strain the rest of your budget, but this happens more than you think.
Many Americans are paying far more than 30%. Analysts at Harvard University found that median renter incomes have dropped, while median housing prices have increased, so the number of “cost-burdened” renters is on the rise. If you’re feeling the pressure, or simply want to save money every month, try these strategies.
1. Negotiate the length and terms of your lease
High turnover is costly for landlords because it puts them at risk of having vacant units that aren’t earning income for a period of time. Plus there are maintenance and cleaning fees and the time and effort spent finding new tenants. Because of these realities, your landlord might be willing to offer more favorable terms to keep you there, including a decrease in rent. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
If you don’t have plans to move anytime soon, find out if your landlord will offer a discount if you sign an 18-month or two-year lease. You can also offer to pay a few months’ rent in advance at a lower rate. This guarantees your landlord some income and provides them more cash up-front.
2. Move into a smaller unit
Let your landlord or property manager know that you’re interested in a less expensive unit if one becomes available. Smaller units or those in less desirable locations—on the ground floor or overlooking an alley, for example—may cost less per month than your current space. Before you move, however, find out if you can roll over your current lease or if you have to start back at zero.
3. Bring in a roommate
If you have a spare bedroom or even a living area that could be sectioned off and converted into a sleeping space, consider looking for a roommate. A roommate not only brings down your rent—it also reduces your other monthly bills like utilities and internet. Ask around to see if friends or friends-of-friends are looking for a place to live, post on Facebook, or use a site like Roommates.com.
Before you move forward, ask your landlord and check your lease to make sure you are allowed to bring in roommates and determine if they have to sign a separate lease or sublease. If no other documents are required, create your own roommate agreement so you have a written record of who’s financially responsible for what.
If your landlord permits this, instead of letting your house or apartment sit empty while you travel, find a short-term subletter to help cover the rent. You can advertise using sites like Craigslist, or sign up for a sharing service like Airbnb or VRBO. You can even do this when you’re home if you have extra space but a full-time roommate isn’t an option. A recent report from SmartAsset found that Airbnb hosts who rent out their second bedrooms can cover an average of 81% of their monthly rent with the income.
Before you take this step, check your lease to make sure your landlord allows subletting and for any legal and financial responsibilities you have in the case of injury or property damage caused by a subletter or guest.
5. Trade your expertise
Offer to shovel snow, rake leaves, perform basic maintenance, or even help out with open houses or showings in exchange for a break on your rent. If you have writing, marketing, or customer service experience, you could work in your complex’s leasing office or assist with promoting the property. If you are on call for these tasks, it’s likely cheaper and creates less hassle for your landlord than working with another contractor or service and/or doing the work themselves.
6. Ask for credit
If a maintenance issue costs you extra out-of-pocket cash, ask for a credit or reimbursement from your landlord. Your lease should lay out who is responsible for repairs—if you’ve had to cover items that are not the result of your own use or misuse, submit a request with receipts. There may be other scenarios in which you could reasonably request cash or a credit on your next month’s rent.
For example, my first Salt Lake City apartment had wonky wiring, which left half of our unit without power for more than two weeks. Unfortunately, this included the kitchen, so we were unable to prepare or store food. The cost of dining out added up quickly, and we managed to politely negotiate a break on our next month’s rent to cover some of that cost.
7. Cut back on bills
Your landlord may not budge on your monthly rent, but you can cut back on your other living expenses. Small changes like turning off lights in rooms you aren’t using and lowering the heat when you aren’t home can impact your monthly utility bills, as can some smart home devices that save energy. Try negotiating your internet bill, check for promotional offers with different providers, ask your landlord or fellow tenants to share a router and network, and drop your cable package—you can watch almost anything you want using streaming services, including channels you’d normally use cable to view.
8. Research the local rental market
Check rental listings in your neighborhood to find out if what you’re paying is on par with what other landlords charge for similar units. If your rent is higher, you can use that information to negotiate, especially if you’re close to the end of your current lease. Some landlords may prefer to cut you a break than go through the process of turning over your unit.
Alexander Bekhterev, a renter in Indianapolis, found a similar townhome in his neighborhood that cost $50 less per month. He let his landlord know, and his landlord lowered the rent on his current unit, which saved $600 over the course of his lease.
“Moral of the story: before prolonging your lease, make sure you explore other local options, and extend the lease on your terms, if possible,” Bekhterev says.
9. Know your state’s rental laws
While you’d expect most landlords to be savvy about rules and regulations governing rent increases and fees, some may not be familiar with the nuances. Others may purposely overcharge or mislead tenants who assume their lease conforms to the rules. Read up on your state rental laws to make sure your situation is aboveboard, and approach your landlord thoughtfully if you feel they’re making a mistake.