Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rental housing market in California has most definitely changed. More landlords are offering specials, and rents have lowered — although those decreases started at very high price levels and rents continue to be problematic. Still, understanding new housing trends is crucial for people looking for a new apartment — and for current renters, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the financial well-being of millions of California renters, who were already facing a housing affordability crisis before the outbreak. Because of sudden unemployment or decreased work, people can’t afford exorbitant rents and have been forced into mounting back-rent debt. Housing Is A Human Right continues to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators to use the state’s windfall to provide billions in rent relief, which also helps small landlords.
In the meantime, shifts are taking place in California’s rental housing market. We’re going to focus on Los Angeles, but the following tips can help renters in any city.
One noticeable change is that more L.A. landlords are offering deals to prospective tenants. For example, we examined rental listings at apartments.com. Time and again, landlords are offering one month, even two months, free. And if they’re offering more deals, it’s reasonable to think that landlords are more open to making deals.
When it comes to negotiating with landlords, prospective renters have been known to go to Zumper, Trulia, and Realtor for suggestions.
Trulia lays out a number of helpful tips, including taking non-monetary concessions, leveraging other properties’ amenities, and letting the landlord know you have options for renting somewhere else.
“During your apartment search,” Trulia notes, “you probably found a few places you would be open to renting. During your discussion about negotiating rent, make sure it’s clear—in a respectful way—that their rental is one of a few you’re considering. If the landlord believes they’re your only option, they won’t feel the need to lower the rate.”
Zumper even urges renters to try to broker a deal with a landlord.
“In our opinion,” Zumper writes, “it’s 100% worth it to negotiate and get the best price possible for your rental. Since rent prices make up a large portion of our expenses, shaving off even a small percentage of your rent can save you thousands of dollars a year.”
For people who think it’s impossible to get a concession from a landlord, Realtor says that’s not true.
“Negotiating rent with a landlord might seem like a hard battle to win,” Realtor notes, “but it’s entirely doable if you can prove two things: 1) the rent being charged is higher than similar units elsewhere, and 2) you’re a model tenant who pays rent on time. Such negotiations can be done whether you’re applying to rent a new apartment or just want cheaper rent where you currently reside.”
That leads us to current renters, especially those financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Los Angeles Times notes that renegotiation for current renters can be difficult, but not impossible.
“When it comes to negotiating rent,” the L.A. Times explains, “it helps to educate yourself about the housing market and consider asking for a temporary reduction or concession.”
The L.A. Times suggests several tips for current renters, including understanding the best time to sign a new lease and to negotiate.
“Negotiating your rent is easier if your lease is almost up and you’re looking to sign a new one,” the newspaper reports, “because you’ve honored your previous agreement and have more leverage. But you can try negotiating at any time.”
Another suggestion, which everyone seems to offer, is to let the landlord know that you’re informed about trends in the rental housing market.
“One renegotiation strategy is to show that you can easily get a better deal a few blocks over,” the paper notes. “Look at apartment listing websites to find the going rate in your area and whether it’s dropping.”
Joshua Clark, an economist at Zillow, tells the L.A. Times: “Landlords should be prepared for negotiations, quite frankly, because there is so much data out there. There are a lot of ways to look at the housing market, and consumers are getting more and more savvy.”
And that’s another new trend during these difficult times: renters are increasingly learning how to negotiate with landlords. That’s important. If one can reduce rent by $50 or $100 a month, that’s a savings of $600 to $1,200 for the year.
Lastly, a number of California cities have rent control or rent stabilization, but that protection only applies to buildings constructed during a certain period of time. In Los Angeles, for example, apartments built in 1978 or earlier are protected by the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. Anything built in 1979 or later is not covered.
So, prospective renters in L.A., San Francisco, and other cities often narrow their apartment search to only buildings that are protected by rent control or rent stabilization. Searching a city’s website or contacting a local tenants union will help one learn if a city has a rent control or rent stabilization law on the books.
And current tenants should also know if he or she lives in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized building — because a landlord of that apartment complex should not dramatically raise rent each year.
If there’s an overriding theme for today’s trends in California’s rental housing market, it’s this one: renters are getting better informed so they can negotiate the best deals with landlords. Knowledge, after all, is power.
(Photograph by Bosdos.PDX/Creative Commons)