California is among the most tenant-friendly states in the country — and the SF Bay Area has more standing rent-control laws than any other region in CA.
San Francisco’s rental market hasn’t swung up the way people expected. So… this means many locals are poised with the question of how to negotiate down their rents when their leases come time for renewal. San Francisco, as well as other major cities, continues to boast a renter’s market — and the affordability gap between renting and buying continues to widen, favoring leases over mortgages.
Stories came out about locals successfully negotiating a rent reduction with their landlords, who are incentivized to have them stay and not have to search for another tenant. After years of landlords having the upper hand — may we say, this feels like a form of justice.
With all of this in mind, there hasn’t been a better time in recent memory to see about getting your rent lowered. Admittedly though, it’s not exactly a simple or straightforward ask… which is why we’re giving you five stepping stones to get that process going.
1. Remind them you’re a great tenant
The first thing to keep in mind when trying to negotiate your rent is to assert and establish your credibility as a tenant. This can mean citing your punctuality with rent payments, your great credit score, or how you’ve kept up the place.
It’s also important that you’ve maintained a good relationship with either the landlord or property management company — so if you plan to describe past ways the said landlord or property management company has fallen short — delayed repair services, issues with past earthquake compliance, etc. — that you do so in a mature, even-keeled manner. Stick to the facts and don’t hyperbolize.
2. Research current rents for similar properties in your neighborhood
Most market analyses and real estate agents agree that Bay Area rentals are now cooling way off since the surge of prices in late-2022 as the Covid-19 health emergency edict began lifting and life started morphing into some semblance of normal. With that in mind, it’s a wise idea to do a meta-analysis and aggregate the current asking rents for similar apartments in your zip code. Doing this will mitigate the rebuttal “Well, we’re not ____ neighborhood in the city.”
Use findings from well-respected apartment listing sites (Zillow, Zumper, Apartments.com, etc.) when researching your area’s rental properties. Opt to not cite Craigslist and Facebook group postings in your research. Also, by doing this assessment, you’ll be able to find the rate at which you’ll be most likely to negotiate your rent down — which could be as much as 20%, in some local situations.
3. Know Your local, state, and federal tenant rights
Yes, you can still negotiate your rent even if you’re behind on payments. If anything, the case to reduce your rent in this situation is a pragmatic means to ensure you’ll be able to eventually pay back any past rents when your predicament improves. Remember: Pandemic-impacted tenants with past-due rent that came due between July 1st, 2022, and August 29th, 2023, which is 60 days after the end of the Mayor’s Proclamation of Local Emergency, are permanently protected against eviction for non-payment of rent that came due during this period. However, these protections will not apply to rent that comes due on or after August 30, 2023.
Moreover: Advocating for a rent reduction will also help both you and the landlord avoid eviction court hearings and unnecessary legal fees.
4. Find a letter template that’s right for you
Once you’ve compiled your necessary debate points and logical facts and figures, now comes the time to actually draft the letter that’ll start the entire negotiation. Suffice to say cramming all that jargon and wordsmithing into a well-fleshed, level-headed letter can be daunting. But, the internet is here to help — with templates, no less.
5. Get in touch with a Bay Area housing rights groups
At some point during your rental negotiating process, it can be helpful to contact Bay Area housing rights groups like the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and Oakland Tenants Union for guidance. These organizations are happy to help you navigate these tricky waters of renters’ rights amid extended eviction moratoriums.
For example: Even if you don’t live in a unit subject to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance — our version of rent control — you likely can still benefit from CA’s statewide rent control law that went into effect in 2019. When the law first went into effect, inflation was below 2%, which, per Cal Matters, translated to a cap of around 7%.
But the past two years have seen inflation soar; landlords in certain parts of the state have been legally allowed to raise rates up to the law’s 10% ceiling. And while that’s still hellaciously high, it’s not as life-upending as some of the annual 20% (or even 30%) increases some SF tenants reported before the law went into effect; if your apartment sits outside of SF’s rent control measure, but was constructed in the past 15 years (this is a rolling timeline, so tenants will gain protection once their building turns 15), you’re likely protected by CA’s Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482).