A steep, sudden rent increase can endanger any renter. We’ve heard from countless low income tenants who have essentially been forced out of their homes by rising rents. In certain areas of the country, we’ve seen reports of people who have had rent rise by a shocking 400 percent!
Here’s what we’ve learned.
1. There are laws about how and when your landlord can raise the rent.
Your landlord’s right to raise the rent depends on a number of factors. Depending on what state and city you live in, there may be additional rules and laws governing when and how they can increase the rent.
Your landlord typically cannot enact a rent increase until your lease ends.
If you have a lease, your landlord can’t raise the rent until your lease ends. Obviously, this means that a long-term lease can protect you from rising rents.
Month-to-month contracts don’t offer this protection. If you’re renting on a monthly basis, your landlord only needs to provide proper notice to increase the rent.
Your landlord cannot raise the rent to punish you.
Housing discrimination is a real problem. Your landlord cannot raise the rent just because you have a family or look a certain way or cook certain foods. They also can’t raise the rent just because you exercised a legal right (such as complaining about mold or other defects in your rental unit).
If you believe that your rent increase is an act of discrimination or punishment, then you should contact a legal aid agency in your area for help.
In most areas, the landlord can raise the rent as high as they want to.
In most areas, there are no limits to how high the landlord can raise the rent. That’s why we see reports of people who are suddenly facing 400 percent increases in their rent. That’s doubling the rent twice! It seems obscene and unfair but, unfortunately, it is legal in most areas.
Your landlord has to negotiate with the local Housing Authority if you’re on Section 8.
If you receive Section 8 vouchers, the rules are complicated. Generally, Section 8 tenants have 12 month leases. At the end of that term, the landlord can negotiate with the Housing Authority to increase the rent. If they ask for rent higher than what the authority allows, you may have to pay the difference between your subsidy and the total rent amount to stay in your unit. Nevertheless, you should never negotiate directly with the landlord when you’re receiving Section 8. Always wait for notices from the local Housing Authority.
That being said, your Section 8 award is based on your total household income. If your income goes up, the amount of help you receive will go down. This means you will be responsible for a higher monthly rent amount. Although it may be tempting not to, it is always important to report changes in your income right away. If the housing authority discovers that you have failed to report your increased income, you will have to repay the money and you can lose you Section 8 voucher altogether.
2. Your landlord is required to notify you a certain way about any rent increase.
In most states, a landlord is required to provide you with written notice 30 days before enacting any rent increase. Of course, the law varies by state and sometimes even by county or city. It’s important to know the regulations for your area.
The following states require 30 days notice before rent increases:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
The following states do not have a specific statute explaining how much notice is required before rent increases:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Many states have their own specific laws about rent increase notices.
Arkansas requires landlords to provide notice “of at least one rental period” before raising the rent. Presumably, this means one month’s notice on a month-to-month lease, or one week’s notice on a week-to-week lease, etc.
In California, landlords must provide at least 30 days notice of a rent increase. If the new rent amount is more than 10% higher than the previous rent, they have to provide at least 60 days notice. The notice must be delivered to the tenant personally or sent by mail.
Colorado allows landlords to raise the rent, change or terminate any month-to-month agreement at the end of the month. Proper notice must be given at least 10 days before the last day of the month.
Connecticut landlords can raise your rent any time and without any advance notice, if you don’t have a written lease. However, they are prohibited from raising your rent if you have done one of the following in the last six months:
- asked the landlord to make repairs
- complained to the health department, housing code office or Fair Rent Commission
- filed a lawsuit because your landlord refused to make repairs
- joined a tenants union
If the landlord increases the rent and you don’t feel the new amount is fair, you can pay whatever you consider to be a fair rental value of the apartment. This amount can be the same as the old rent or a higher amount that is still less than what the landlord is asking for. If you do this, the landlord may not be able to evict you for nonpayment of rent. However, they can still pursue eviction for other reasons. For more information about this, please read this pamphlet by the State of Connecticut’s Superior Court.
You can also complain to your local Fair Rent Commission, if you don’t feel like the rent is fair. Many locales in Connecticut have a Fair Rent Commission. Tenants can complain to these commissions when they feel their rent is too high. The commission will investigate the complaint and hold hearings to determine the fair rental value of the unit.
Delaware requires landlords to provide a 60 day written notice to change the terms of a month-to-month lease. After you receive the notice, you have 15 days to notify the landlord that you want to end your tenancy. Otherwise, the changes will take effect.
Georgia requires landlords to provide at least 60 days notice to increase the rent or terminate the lease.
Hawaii landlords must provide at least 45 days’ notice before the increase takes effect if the lease is month-to-month. If the lease has a shorter term, only 15 days’ notice is required.
Idaho requires 15 days’ notice for month-to-month leases. Otherwise, the increase require 30-90 days’ notice. You can find more information in this Idaho pamphlet for landlords.
Illinois landlords can change the rent with just one rental period’s notice. If the lease is weekly, they only need to provide one week’s notice. If the lease is monthly, they must provide one month’s notice.
Kentucky only requires one rental period’s worth of notice. If the agreement is monthly, they must provide 30 days’ notice. If the agreement is weekly, they must provide 7 days’ notice.
Louisiana only requires ten days’ written notice before the end of the lease. If the lease term is not specified in the agreement, it is assumed that the lease is month-to-month. This means that the landlord can wait until the 20th of the month to notify you of an increase!
Maine has different rules for the different lease types. If the lease isn’t in writing, the landlord can increase the rent only after providing the tenant at least 45 days’ written notice. A written or oral waiver is against public policy, so the landlord can’t compel you to verbally agree to waive that right. Rent cannot be increased for a written lease until the lease term expires.
Maryland Attorney General’s website indicates that Maryland counties (and Baltimore City) can establish their own landlord/tenant laws. For example, Baltimore has many rules about rent increases. The rent cannot be increased within a certain amount of time after repairs. Baltimore law also states that a rent increase cannot exceed either (1) the percentage increase in cost of living according to a reasonable inflator index or (2) the amount approved in writing by the Housing Commissioner or the amount required by the landlord’s documented financial hardship, whichever is greater.
Michigan allows landlords to increase rent during the rental term under certain circumstances. Even if you are the middle of a written lease, the landlord can increase your rent with 30 days’ notice if the increase is caused by an increase in property taxes, utilities, or property insurance premiums.
Minnesota requires landlords to notify you “one rental period plus one day” in advance. In a month to month lease, that means you would have to be notified March 30th about a May 1 increase. It is one full month plus one extra day in advance.
Mississippi requires landlords to provide at least 14 days notice of rental increases. The law words this rather bizarrely: “Landlord may increase the rent during the renewal period by providing written notice to Tenant that becomes effective the month following the thirteenth (13) day after the notice is provided.” Presumably, that means you need to be notified at least 14 days before any rental increase can take effect. If the landlord notifies you on March 20, the rent increase won’t take effect until May 1.
Montana requires a minimum of 15 days’ notice before increasing the rent.
Nebraska requires landlords to provide 60 days’ notice of rent increases.
Nevada has different policies depending on the length of your lease. For most leases, the landlord must provide at least 45 days’ written notice. For lease terms that are less than a month, like weekly leases, the notice must be provided at least 15 days in advance.
New York has complicated rules because rent control and rent stabilization laws govern certain units but not others. For example, there are certain maximum rent increases that landlords must abide by for rent stabilized units. Seniors age 62+ may qualify for certain exemptions from rent increases in rent stabilized units, also. These rules are difficult to navigate and have many loopholes, so please contact the NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) office if you need help with that.
Oregon has many laws regarding rental increases. No increase is allowed during the first year of a month-to-month tenancy. In the second year, 90 days’ notice is required. Portland offers a Relocation Assistance program to people who move due to extreme rental increases.
Vermont requires landlords to provide at least 60 days’ notice before the first day of the rental period when the increase starts.
Washington law demands landlords provide at least three months’ notice before increasing the rent.
3. Here’s what to expect when you’re notified of a rent increase.
If your landlord notifies you about an upcoming rent increase, the first thing you need to do is make sure that you were properly notified. Generally, this means that you should have received written notice at least 30 days before the change takes effect. However, you can check the above section for information about the notification laws in your area.
Keep records of all communication about the increase.
It’s important to keep records of everything. If you have a conversation, make sure to write down what was said. Store all of the information together. This way, you will have documentation if you need it later. In some instances, landlords have changed the new amount in different letters so it’s wise to keep records.
A rent increase can mean a security deposit increase, too.
In many areas, the amount of your security deposit is limited by the amount of rent you pay. If the rent goes up, the required security deposit might go up also. In that case, you may be liable for an additional security deposit when that new rate takes effect.
4. What can you do about an illegal rent increase?
Unfortunately, it’s easy to win the battle but lose the war when it comes to rental disputes. You need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing a landlord for an illegal rent increase. Even when you’re right, it can have disastrous consequences if it isn’t handled properly.
Should you point out that it’s illegal?
If you’re a month-to-month renter, questioning the legality of the increase could buy you an extra 30 days before it takes effect. However, it can also put your relationship with your landlord on ice. You could find yourself facing a notice to vacate instead of a notice of rising rent. Since you’re renting on a month-to-month basis anyway, it’s easy for the landlord to end your lease.
Renters with longer-term leases have a greater advantage in this situation but, even then, you need to consider the consequences. If you have made late payments or broken any other terms of your lease, the landlord may decide to pursue a legal eviction on some other grounds. If the landlord has any legal grounds for eviction, you’ll need to proceed with caution.
Before you decide to move, try to negotiate with the landlord.
If you are an easy, low-maintenance tenant who consistently pays the rent, you can use this to appeal to your landlord’s business sense. This is especially true if you’ve been renting the same unit for a long period of time. If the rental hike is significant and will cause you to move, bring this to the attention of the landlord. Point out that you have been a stable, reliable tenant. Long-term tenants are hard to find, so it may be enough to change the landlord’s mind about the rent increase.
Involve your neighbors, if you can. The more people who speak up and band together about the rent increase, the more effective your negotiations will be. If it will cause a lot of people to move out, the landlord may decide that it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Write all of this information in a polite, well-formatted business letter. If you can, make a counter-offer and propose a rent amount that is higher than what you currently pay but lower than what the landlord wants. Keep a copy for yourself and send one through certified mail, so you can retain proof of delivery. Keeping records is important in case the landlord doesn’t honor your agreements later.
5. How can you avoid a rent increase?
Unless you live in an area with rent control, it’s practically impossible to avoid rent increases altogether. However, there are three things that you can do to help prevent rent increases from blindsiding you.
Look for rent controlled units.
Some areas have adopted rent control and rent stabilization policies that prohibit landlords from increasing the rent.
Sign a long-term lease.
Almost all states prevent landlords from increasing your rent during the lease term. Instead of going month-to-month, try to sign a long-term lease. In some areas, you can get leases that are 24-months or longer! Often, landlords will provide discounts to long-term tenants.
Buy a house.
We have found many programs that help low income people purchase their own home! If you own your home, you could still experience periodic increases due to property taxes or insurance premiums. However, these increases are usually much more modest than what a landlord would charge. Check out our home ownership programs here!