How to negotiate rent with your landlord. California’s eviction moratorium expires February 1

Hosted by

A vacancy status sign outside an apartment building in Culver City, California. Photo by Amy Ta.

The eviction moratorium California enacted in August is set to expire at the end of this month. But for many unemployed residents, their job won’t magically reappear on February 1. 

KQED reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez reported on how to negotiate your rent during the pandemic. Here are some of his tips.

Compare rent prices in your neighborhood 

Before talking with your landlord, research what the rent is in your neighborhood.

“Some folks are finding, ‘Oh, hey, the pandemic has been so hard hitting that rents across the street from me in a vacant apartment are lower than they used to be even a year ago.” 

If rent across the street is a few hundred dollars lower than what you’re paying, ask your landlord if they’ll consider knocking off the same amount.

Pay a percentage, ask your landlord to forgive the rest

If you owe back rent that’s building up, agree to pay a percentage.

“We've heard from a lot of tenant groups that tenants have had success saying, ‘Hey, I know I owe you $6,000. Let me let me pay you $5,000 or $4,000 of it, and can you forgive me on the rest?’ 

Harness power in numbers 

If you live in a large apartment building with a lot of other tenants, consider taking collective action.

“You could slip a note under everyone's door and say, ‘Hey, would you all like to negotiate together?’ You have a lot more negotiating power together, almost like a union.”

Don’t hire a lawyer (right away)

Do the negotiations yourself. Do it in writing. Once you get to the point where you're ready to draw up a legal agreement, bring in the attorney.

“You only need [a lawyer] to look over that one document. That way, you're saving some bucks. Most attorneys I spoke with said, ‘You only need me for that part.’”

Be cordial and sympathetic to your landlord

Many tenants have it hard right now, but so do many landlords.

“I was hearing from one landlord who had $100,000 of non-payments. The trash bills are going up because people are home more. Water bills are going up. It's really rough.”

He advises focusing on numbers rather than emotions. 

“People like to lean on their hardships. And while landlords are people too, and they're going to feel for you and try to work things out as best they can, it helps to think of it from the perspective of the costs they have to pay, and offering a good deal based on that.”

Think of it like leasing a car. “You're not telling them, ‘Oh, I really need a car to get around to help my life.’ The car dealership doesn't care, right?” 

“This is a business relationship. Keep it mellow, keep it cool. If you negotiate something, then you might be able to come to a happy middle.”

Use hardball tactics with caution 

Consider asking for a day in court, which is your right as a tenant. Due to the pandemic, we’ll likely see a huge backlog.

“Any landlord looking at this is going to realize, ‘Oh, dang, we're not going to see that day in court for a long time.’ And since it’s guaranteed, the tenant can drag it out and drag it out and drag it out.”

Use hardball tactics like these as a last resort, since they’ll sour the relationship with your landlord.

Worst case scenario, agree to leave

If rent is bad enough, and you really don't think you can pay that back rent once moratoriums and eviction protections are lifted, then promise a date that you’ll leave. 

“You can use that promise of a date, which to a landlord is essentially a promise of when they can make money again, to negotiate down your back rent. It's a great way to say, ‘I can pay you a certain amount.’”