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When Can a Landlord Increase Your Rent?

March 22, 2019

Rent increases are unpleasant but oftentimes inevitable. Most tenants experience them at least once during their rental journey. However, it’s important to know that landlords can't raise rents whenever they want. Inexperienced renters might not be able to tell the difference between legal and illegal rent hikes. If you don’t know when a landlord can increase your rent, read on.

When your landlord can raise the rent
When your landlord can’t raise the rent
How to deal with an illegal rent increase
What you can do if the rent increase is legal

When your landlord can raise the rent

Your landlord’s legal right to increase your rent depends on whether you live in a rent-controlled apartment, have a lease or a month-to-month rental agreement. Let’s explore all of these options separately:

Rent-controlled apartments. If your apartment is protected under rent control, your local legislation regulates how much and how often your landlord can raise the rent. However, in most rent-protected areas landlords can petition rent control boards to increase rental rates if they are facing an increase in costs. For example, if bringing a building up to code requires investments, a rent control board is likely to approve a rent hike.

Lease. Unless your lease includes a clause about rent increases, your landlord can’t raise the rent until the end of your lease.

Month-to-month rental agreement. If you have a month-to-month tenancy, you are the least protected when it comes to rent hikes. Your landlord can raise your rent as often as they want as long as they provide proper notice within a certain time frame. In most states, they are only required to give you 30 days before the planned increase. The written notice must be sent by certified mail. In the majority of states, you are not obligated to pay the increased rent if you haven’t received the notice in writing.

Make sure to check your local legislation. In California, for example, a landlord must give their tenant a 30-day notice if the rent increase is 10% or less of the rate charged during the 12 months before the rent increase takes place. If the rent increase is greater than 30%, a landlord must give a 60-day notice.

When your landlord can’t raise the rent

We already established that a landlord can’t raise your rent before the end of your lease unless the agreement says otherwise. Additionally, they can't do it without a proper notice when it comes to month-to-month agreements. However, there are more instances when a landlord can’t increase your rent:

Discriminatory rent increase. Your race, religion, sex and marital status can’t be a reason for a rent increase. Additionally, landlords can’t discriminate against families with or without children.

Rent increase in retaliation. Most state laws prohibit landlords from increasing rents in retaliation against people exercising their legal rights by complaining about their landlords to housing and other authorities. If you reported your landlord for illegally entering your unit without proper notice, they can’t raise your rent or evict you in retaliation.

How to deal with an illegal rent increase

If you’ve been a model tenant, always paid your rent on time and in full, and haven’t breached your lease by sneaking in a pet or a roommate, feel free to report your landlord to your local housing authority if your landlord illegally increases your rent.

However, if you’ve violated the lease terms for which you can be evicted, you have to evaluate your current situation and decide whether you can afford a potential eviction. You might have to continue paying the increased rate until you find a new place to live. If the reason for the rent hike was you getting a pet, ask to increase your security deposit instead.

The answer is simple - negotiate. In most cases, landlords would rather have trustworthy long-term tenants than deal with unit turnover. Finding a new tenant is time-consuming and expensive. Study up on your local rental market and build your case. If you’ve been a stellar tenant and paid your rent on time and in full, make sure to mention it to your landlord. However, keep in mind that the rent hike might be reasonable. If market prices for similar units have been constantly growing, but you’ve been paying the same amount of rent for years, the increase is inevitable.

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Sania Tran
Sania is a highly skilled content manager and author with a wealth of experience in the apartment rental and real estate markets. As a valued member of the Apartment List team, Sania brings her expertise and insights to a wide range of content, including blog posts, guides, and research reports. Read More

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