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Is There a Limit to How Much a Landlord Can Raise Your Rent?

April 28, 2020

You’ve found the apartment of your dreams, and better yet, it’s affordable! Though you’re excited, you can’t help but wonder — will it always be this affordable? Just how much can my new landlord raise the rent in the future?

You know that landlords can increase rent. You may have heard horror stories of tenants being forced to move because they couldn’t afford the new rent. 

As a tenant, you might one day find yourself in this same situation. It’s essential to understand the rules and regulations regarding rent raises. 

So, at the very least, you might be able to prepare. However, you’ll have to start by asking the million-dollar question: 

What are the rules on raising rent?

This guide will give you all the answers you’ve been looking for. Here’s everything you need to know about raising rent and how to handle rent increases like a pro. 

How Often Can Landlords Raise the Rent?

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about your landlord raising your rent randomly. Landlords can only legally raise the rent when your current lease agreement expires. 

A lease agreement is a binding legal document. The terms within it can only be changed if both you and your landlord agree to sign a new lease agreement.

That said, if you currently have a month-to-month lease agreement, then rent can’t be raised until the end of the month when your lease agreement expires. For this reason, most tenants prefer a long-term lease term. 

How Much Notice is Required for a Rent Increase?

Legally, a landlord must provide tenants with a notice of rent increase. In most states, a landlord must give tenants notice at least 30 days before they’ll enforce a rent increase. 

However, in other states like California, the notice can increase to 60 days’ notice if the increase is more than 10% of the current rent rate. 

In short, having a thorough understanding of your local and state laws regarding rent increases is vital. It can help improve your preparedness. 

If you happen to fall in the category of being a “tenant at will,” meaning you don’t have a written lease agreement, the law still protects you against sudden rent increases. Landlords will still be required to give you the minimum notice before a rent increase can take effect. 

How Much Can Landlords Legally Raise the Rent?

There is no real limit to the amount that landlords can legally raise their rent prices. Without an official law, in theory, landlords can double, triple, and even quadruple their rental rates. 

However, it's unlikely that you’ll ever experience such a raise. For one, landlords have to stay competitive with the other rental units in their area. Not to mention, increasing rent exponentially reduces the pool of available tenants that could actually afford to rent the unit.

Keep in mind that although landlords are generally allowed to raise rent, they cannot raise rent against tenants as a punishment or in retaliation. That’s referred to as a punitive rent increase. 

For example, if you raise complaints to your landlord about the condition of the apartment and they, in turn, raise the rent in retaliation to your complaints, you would have legal grounds for a civil suit. 

However, there are cases in which a landlord is limited in their ability to raise rent past a certain amount. If you’re currently residing in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment unit, then local laws cap the amount that landlords can charge for rent. These laws are put in place to protect the amount of affordable housing available to residents. 

Read more about when landlords can raise the rent.

Can Your Landlord Raise Rent Retroactively?

Imagine receiving a notice that your landlord has raised rent beginning — effective last month. Not only is that unfair, but it’s also illegal.

It means that your landlord hasn’t given you proper notice. As we stated earlier, in most states, landlords are required to provide tenants with a minimum of 30 days' notice prior to increasing rent. 

However, if your landlord gave you proper notice of the increase and you didn’t comply with it, then you’re still responsible for paying the balance. 

It’s possible that a retroactive rent increase is sometimes an attempt to overwhelm tenants with overdue back rent costs. If you believe this is the case, then you can file a civil case against your landlord. 

Can a Rent Increase Affect Your Security Deposit?

Yes, a rent increase can affect your security deposit. As a security deposit is most commonly charged in the amount of one month’s rent, if the monthly rent increases, then the security deposit may also increase. 

However, if you’re negotiating a lease renewal, you can ask that your security deposit stays at its current amount. 

If you’ve been a good long-term tenant, then your landlord might consider this trade-off. However, if you’ve caused significant damage to your landlord’s property and violated the lease agreement, then it’s likely your landlord won’t be willing to make this compromise.  

What Should You Do with a Rent Increase Letter?

Once you receive a rent increase letter from your landlord, you might be unsure of your next move. It’s important to handle the situation with care, especially if you want to negotiate the rent increase with your landlord. 

Here’s what you need to do if you receive a rent increase letter: 

  • Ensure that the Increase is Legal: Start by checking your local landlord-tenant laws. As they vary by locality, you’ll need to do some research to verify the increase’s legality. 
  • Review Your Lease Agreement: Your lease agreement is legally binding for both you and your landlord. Review your agreement to ensure that your landlord fulfilled all of the legal requirements before raising the rent. Have they given you proper notice? Stayed within the rent rate limit? 
  • Talk to Your Fellow Tenants: If applicable, discuss the rent raise with other tenants. You may be able to negotiate the terms of the rent raise as a collective with your landlord. 
  • Talk to Your Landlord: It might be best to discuss the possibility of negotiating the rent raise with your landlord directly. 

What Should You Do if Your Landlord Illegally Raises Your Rent?

Unfortunately, not all landlords will follow the rules when it comes to raising the rent. If you have reason to believe that your landlord has illegally raised your rent, whether they failed to give notice or raised rent retrospectively, then you have a right to fight it. 

Send a written response to your landlord regarding the rent raise. Detail your concerns about the legality of the rent increase. 

Be sure to keep a record of all correspondence with your landlord, including any verbal agreements. 

Most states require the landlord to give notice of rent increase in writing. If your landlord has illegally raised your rent and the dispute reaches a courtroom, you want to have proof of any wrongdoing. 

Finally, remember to be careful and tread lightly. After all, your landlord owns the property. If you’ve been a high-quality tenant, your landlord will likely be more than willing to negotiate with you. 

Not to mention, all landlords want long-term tenants. That usually means less time and effort spent trying to find new tenants. If you love your apartment and have a good relationship with your landlord, be sure to emphasize that in your correspondence. 

Final Thoughts

How much can a landlord raise rent? The hard truth is that rent increases can be challenging to handle whether you’re a landlord or a tenant. That’s why it’s important to have knowledge of the rules on rent increases. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to make an informed decision. 

Do keep in mind that if you choose to stay, you’re obligated to pay the new amount on its due date. If you don’t, you may be subjected to eviction proceedings. 

Not paying rent is considered “just cause” for evictions. The bottom line? Whether you choose to pay the increased rent rate or move out before the rent increase is enforced, you have to choose what’s right for you!

By: Susan Finch
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