How to negotiate a better lease with your landlord

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Myles Ma, CPFCSenior ReporterMyles Ma, CPFC, is a certified personal finance counselor and former senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covered insurance and personal finance. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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You can run for office if your rent is too damn high.

But it might be easier to negotiate with your landlord.

"There's no reason not to try," said Noah Eisenkraft, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "There's no downside, especially if you're asking early."

Want to negotiate your way into a better deal with your landlord? Here's how.

Before you sign a new lease

The first opportunity to negotiate with a landlord is before signing your lease, said Lucas Hall, head of industry relations at Cozy, a property management service.

"That's a really good opportunity to negotiate because the landlord doesn't have any guarantees that you're going to sign the lease," Hall said.

This is a good time to ask to change clauses in the lease or lower fees because you can leverage the ability to walk away. Make sure the lease has no policies with which you disagree. For example, if you plan to have family over a lot, check for a strict guest policy.

"The last thing you want is for you to sign a lease and you get stuck with something you don't agree to," Hall said.

If your request is reasonable and won't cost the landlord money, they will usually accommodate it to get you to sign.

In the middle of a lease

What if you decide you hate washing dishes months after moving in? Or you realize your windows are drafty? Your landlord isn't required to buy you a dishwasher or replace your windows.

So it helps to meet them halfway: Offer to find a contractor to do the work or even suggest you'll split the cost, Hall said.

Near the end of a lease

This is the toughest time to negotiate. If you're on your way out, your landlord has little incentive to meet any demands you have.

That's why it's better to approach your landlord with any problems early, said Eisenkraft, who teaches negotiation to business students at the University of North Carolina.

"Then you can figure all these things out and still have time to find another place if it's not going to work out," Eisenkraft said.

If your landlord plans to raise the rent, you can always threaten to move out. If your landlord hikes the rent and you leave, a vacant apartment is going to cost more money than if you stayed at the lower rent, Hall said.

Showing you're a good tenant can convince a landlord to keep rent flat. Paying your rent on time and taking care of the property can show your value as a tenant.

Be nice

Negotiation with your landlord isn't like negotiating with your cable company. You're negotiating over your home with the person who owns it. As long as you live there, you need to have a working relationship with your landlord. Aggressive tactics may work in other settings, but if you plan on staying somewhere long-term, you can't afford to cut ties with your landlord.

"You want to go with much softer, more respectful tactics," Eisenkraft said.

In any negotiation, you want to think of the the other side's perspective, Eisenkraft said. Ask yourself: What does your landlord want? For example, if you're trying to lower your rent, you may also want to offer to sign a two-year lease to give your landlord the peace of mind that someone will be in the apartment long-term.

With any request, Hall said, "Look at it from a landlord's perspective and ask if you're asking the landlord to lose time or money."

A landlord wants the security of a good relationship with a tenant, so a hostile approach isn't usually necessary, Hall said. If a landlord is disrespectful or breaking the law, then you can start making demands or even talk to a lawyer.

"Treat them as you want to be treated," Hall said.

Read up

Make sure you know your rights before negotiating. Get familiar with the rental laws in your state. Landlordology, a Cozy website, has a guide to rental laws in every state. Your state should have resources online as well.

You should read your lease as well. Make sure you get a copy and have it handy in case of a dispute.

"Sometimes landlords forget what's in the lease and try to pull something that's not correct," Hall said.

Not all landlords are created equal

The nature of a negotiation could change drastically depending on the type of landlord you're dealing with. It will probably be easier to talk to an independent landlord you know personally and who might live in the same building, Hall said. If a large corporation owns your apartment, they might not even know who you are and will be much less willing to bend the rules for an individual tenant.

In this situation, it's important to know the right person to negotiate with, Eisenkraft said. You may deal with the superintendent whenever you have a maintenance issue, but he probably doesn't have the power to change your lease.

"The first question I always ask in a negotiation is, 'Are you the right person I should be negotiating with?'" Eisenkraft said.

If you get turned down

Your landlord might say no to a new dishwasher. That doesn't necessarily mean the matter is closed.

"As long as you ask politely, there's no problem with asking again in a few months," Hall said.

You don't risk anything by at least trying to negotiate with your landlord, and you stand to save money and build a relationship, Eisenkraft said.

"Even if you fail, the status quo is maintained," he said.

Which city has the most financially savvy renters? Check out the Policygenius Renters Index to find out.

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