For many renters, the annual ritual of renewing a lease raises the question, “Is this still the best apartment for me?”
It’s an important question to ask—after all, it’s your home—and multiple considerations may factor into the answer. But the decision isn’t just whether to stay in your apartment or move. Even if you love your apartment, you may wonder if you’re getting a good deal.
Renewing a lease is a process, says Libby McMillan, editor at ApartmentGuide. She recommends first doing some research and soul-searching, to help determine whether your current place is still a good fit both financially and personally. If you decide to stay, she says, you may be able to lower your rent or secure extra perks to make the apartment even more appealing.
Start by asking yourself these seven questions.
1. Is this still the best apartment for me?
A lease renewal is a great time to take stock, says McMillan. Are you happy in the apartment and in the neighborhood, or could a change give you a new perspective and renewed excitement? Also, says McMillan, take into account any changes that might happen in the next year, either professional or personal. Might you be switching jobs? Getting married? Starting a family? It’s never too early to start preparing for potential life changes.
2. Am I paying too much?
If price is a major concern, look at the rental rates being offered to new tenants in your community and in other neighborhoods, says McMillan, and weigh the pros and cons of moving. Nearby apartments might be offering perks like a free garage space or a gym membership—though perhaps with a trade-off, like committing to a two-year lease.
3. How can I minimize rent increases?
A rent increase may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you have to just accept the new amount. Ask management if they’re willing to lower the price in exchange for signing a longer lease, suggests McMillan, and don’t forget to remind them what a great tenant you’ve been. Ask, too, if auto-paying your rent would offer you any savings. And be aware of any caps on allowable rent increases. She recommends checking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. “You’ll find tenant rights for every state,’’ she says. “Learn what yours are.”
4. What terms can I negotiate?
Price isn’t the only factor when negotiating with your landlord. If the building offers more desirable units, ask to move into one for the same price. Or perhaps you can nab an amenity, like a parking spot, for a discounted rate. If your apartment community offers a referral reward, ask for the offer in writing after moving in. “You might offset your rent a bit by sending a friend to the leasing office,” says McMillan. If you need flexibility, inquire about switching to a month-to-month lease, even if it means an increase in rent. “Don’t, however, stay long-term in a month-to-month, as it could hurt your credit rating,” she warns.
5. Have there been any changes to my lease?
Come renewal time, management may update the language of the lease, which could have additional fees or implications for that lease period and beyond. But it’s your responsibility to read the lease closely and compare it with your current one, cautions McMillan. “Don’t do this in a hurry,” she says, “as that could be costly to you.”
6. What upgrades are available?
Ask your manager what upgrades are planned for your apartment community and when your unit is expected to receive them. New cabinets and appliances, or even just a fresh coat of paint, may be enough to help you decide to stay put. “Larger apartment complexes typically create maintenance and upgrade plans as part of their budget process, so this is an easy conversation to have,” says McMillan. “If there’s a model, go see it, particularly if you’ve lived in your apartment a few years. It may hold some surprises.”
7. Can I add a roommate?
Renewal time is a good time to add a roommate, says McMillan, and typically results in a new lease with both of your names on it. Just be careful with your selection; if your roommate doesn’t pay on time, that could potentially hurt your credit rating. Discuss his or her financial situation in detail before moving in together.
Make an informed call on whether or not to renew your apartment lease, then make sure to get a quote on renters insurance through the GEICO Insurance Agency for extra peace of mind.
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Originally published November 2017.