Whether your hours have been cut, you've been furloughed from your job, or you're nervous about the extra $600 a week in unemployment coming to an end, COVID-19 is likely to have affected your money situation. Most people's biggest expense is on housing, and if you've made cuts in other areas of your life, it might be time to see if creating some savings here is possible. Some cities declared rent moratoriums early in the pandemic, but many of those measures have now ended. The next step, then, is talking to your landlord. When it comes to negotiating rent with your landlord during a pandemic, it can pay to tread delicately and do your homework.
What To Know Before You Talk To Your Landlord
Pause before you draft that email to get all your ducks in a row. "Before going into a negotiation, make sure you have reviewed all the details of your contract," Jill Gonzalez, a financial literacy advocate and analyst at Wallethub, tells Bustle. "You'll need to know things like whether or not your rent includes any pass-through expenses, when your contract expires, or how a default is defined, and what happens if you default."
Pass-through expenses are things like electricity and gas bills, and your lease will outline whether you pay for them separately, or whether the landlord pays for them as part of your rent. Defaults are the technical term for not paying rent on time. Look at all the terms and conditions in your rental agreement before you start the conversation. If you have access to a lawyer, it might be a good idea to give them the contract to check over. Know the rights of tenants and landlords in your city and state, too.
How To Ask Your Landlord To Reduce Your Rent
"First, acknowledge that you are making an ask during a difficult time," Lindsay Bryan-Podvin LMSW, a financial therapist, tells Bustle. She recommends starting the email with a statement like, "I know you are probably also navigating these conversations with other tenants," or "This is a tricky time for a lot of people, but I have to make a request."
"By empathizing with your landlord, you help to keep them from jumping right to the defense," she says. Try to get in touch as early as you can, not when rent is past due and everybody is panicking. Be polite and professional, too, even if you and your landlord have a "watch Scandal together and drunk-yell about Olivia Pope" vibe.
Have evidence that will help your case, like your own records of paying rent on time and being a good tenant. "Your track record can be used as leverage, and it also helps if you have evidence of your hardship, such as records of any layoff, furlough, or pay cut," Gonzalez says. She also recommends being realistic about your request. "Not going with big demands can increase your chances of getting what you want," she says. If you live with others, everybody needs to be accountable, so include all roommates in the planning, negotiations, and email chain for total transparency.
Bryan-Podvin advises being clear and leaving room for back-and-forth. "Keep in mind there will likely be a little negotiation," she says. "So if your goal is to skip a month of rent, ask for two months of delayed payments. If you are looking for $200 off of rent, ask for $400 off for the next two months." Make sure you have a few options in mind, and a coherent idea about what you can pay, when. Landlords will be more likely to be positive if they know you have a plan, even if it's not their first choice.
How To Stay Strong During The Conversation
Communication is key, Gonzalez says. "You'll have to initiate the conversation, have an open dialogue, and be willing to compromise." Respond quickly and clearly to whatever they suggest. Work out exactly what your household finances can support; can you manage $100 off your rent a month? What will you do if they say no? She says you should also take your landlord's situation into account. If they're experiencing financial hardship too, there's a strong chance they might say no, and not because they hate you and your loud music.
This can be a psychologically tough situation, so be aware you might find it hard going. Joshua Klapow Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle that you can acknowledge that in your dialogue. "Let them know going in that this is a tough conversation for you, that your goal is figure something out, and that you need their help," he says. "Let them know the situation you are in, but that you are absolutely open to ideas they may have." He also recommends noticing your own feelings around making the request, which could include anxiety, guilt, fear, or embarrassment. "Go in with the mindset that you are not going to bail out should those emotions arise," he says.
It's not necessary to give your landlord or letting agency all the gory details, though. "Your landlord doesn't need to know that you've been trying to pick up hours, or that you are juggling childcare," Bryan-Podvin says. "They just want to know what you are asking for and for how long."
In an ideal world, state or federal governments would step in to cover people who aren't able to make their rent or mortgage payments due to the coronavirus, or create a universal basic income. Unfortunately that's not where we're at right now, though. Whatever you work out with your landlord, do your best to follow through — and keep them posted if anything changes. Being your own financial advocate can be really rough, but if you end up getting a good result, you'll feel like Wonder Woman.
Lindsay Bryan-Podvin LMSW
Joshua Klapow Ph.D.