Can a Landlord Raise Rent Month to Month? A Legal Guide

Learn about rent increases for month-to-month rental agreements, including legal requirements landlords must follow and strategies tenants can use to negotiate or to find alternate housing. We cover areas like notice periods, illegal reasons for increases, tips for communicating with landlords, and options like roommates or long-term leases to help manage rent costs.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
May 20, 2024
Can a Landlord Raise Rent Month to Month? A Legal Guide

For tenants and landlords alike, month-to-month rental agreements offer freedom — that is, until it's time to talk about rent increases. If you're renting month-to-month, your landlord generally has the ability to raise the rent, so long as they provide proper notice. However, there are regulations around how much they can increase it and how much notice they need to give you.

This article will cover everything you need to know about rent hikes for these shorter leases. You'll learn about notice requirements, illegal reasons for rent increases, and rent caps in certain areas.

For tenants, we'll provide tips on negotiating with your landlord if you can't afford the new rent and other options to keep your housing costs down. Landlords will learn procedures and regulations for notifying tenants.

Don't stay in the dark when it comes to month-to-month rent increases. Gathering that legal know-how helps both tenants and landlords to stand their ground and keep their finances in check.

Month-to-month lease rent increases

Landlords can raise the rent for month-to-month tenants, but they must provide notice in accordance with state and local laws. The notice period varies by location and could range from 30 days to a few months, as specified in the rental agreement and relevant landlord-tenant laws.

Frequency of rent increases

There are usually rules around how often landlords can raise the raise rent prices. Common limits are:

  • Annual: Only one rent increase per year.
  • Minimum interval: There might be a minimum time between rent increases, which could be six months or one year.
  • Rent control limits: In areas with rent control, laws cap how much landlords can raise the rent at one time.

Rent increase restrictions

Landlords have the right to raise rent, but there are situations where a rent increase could be against the law.

Rent control and other limitations

In some areas of the country, rent control laws restrict annual rent increases to keep housing affordable and protect tenants from excessive hikes. These laws have restrictions on how much and how often landlords can raise rent. Here's a closer look at the elements that govern these controls:

  • Rent control caps: In jurisdictions with rent control, there are strict caps on how much a landlord can increase rent within a given period, typically annually. For instance, some cities may limit rent increases to a certain percentage of the existing rent or tie them to the consumer price index.
  • Justification for increases: Beyond the caps, landlords may have to justify any rent increases and get them approved by a local housing board.
  • Coverage and exemptions: Rent control laws vary widely by location, and not all rental properties fall under these laws. For example, newer buildings, certain types of temporary housing, or units in smaller buildings might be exempt from these regulations. 

Illegal reasons for rent increases

Landlords should be aware that certain reasons for raising rent on month-to-month tenants are not allowable by law. These illegal situations include:

Discrimination

Fair housing laws protect tenants from discrimination based on national origin, race, religion, family status, or disability. So, if your landlord raises your rent just because you belong to one of these protected groups, that is illegal discrimination. 

These laws make sure that everyone has a fair chance at housing opportunities, regardless of their identity or personal circumstances.

Retaliation

Let's say you exercised your legal tenant rights, like reporting your landlord for not fixing something or joining a tenants' union. Then, your landlord informs you they are raising your rent. 

This could be considered an illegal retaliatory action, punishing you for standing up for your rights. Landlords generally can't raise the rent to retaliate against tenants for legally protected activities.

Breach of lease agreement

The lease or rental agreement you signed with your landlord is a legally binding contract. Your current lease may state that your landlord cannot increase your rent during the lease term. If that's the case and the rental property owner tries to raise the rent before the lease ends, they are breaking the contract.

How to respond if your landlord raises your rent

If your landlord provides notice of an upcoming rent increase, there are steps you can take in response:

Verify the increase with local laws

Check your city or state's tenant laws and regulations. These outline your landlord's obligations and details around increasing the monthly rent. If you suspect your landlord isn't following the laws or need assistance in understanding the regulations, consider contacting local tenants' rights groups or housing agencies.

Request written notice

In most places, the law requires landlords to give you a written rent increase notice, not just a verbal notice. The written document should state:

  • Amount: The new, higher rent.
  • Date: When the rent increase takes effect.
  • Details: Any additional information about the increase.

If your landlord only verbally informs you about the rent hike, you should politely request that they provide the details in a written letter or email. This protects you by:

  • Legal compliance: It confirms that the landlord provided proper notice as required by law.
  • Record keeping: Provides documentation in case disputes arise regarding the rent increase later.

Review your lease agreement

Read through the lease or rental agreement that you signed when you moved into the rental property and look for any sections that talk about rent increases. Common agreements include language around:

  • Notice: How much notice is needed before a rent increase occurs.
  • Limits: Caps on the amount by which rent can be increased at one time.
  • Regulations: Any additional rules concerning rent hikes.

Strategies for negotiating rent increases

Tenants don't have to simply accept a rent increase at face value. By taking the right negotiation approach, you may be able to secure more favorable terms.

Prepare your case

Start by gathering information to build a strong case. This includes communication regarding the increase, your rental agreement, and any other relevant documents.

  • Highlight your value as a tenant: Landlords want responsible tenants who consistently pay rent on time and take good care of the property. Don't be afraid to emphasize your positive track record and highlight any instances where you've gone above and beyond as a tenant. 
  • Market rates: Be sure to understand rental prices for similar properties in your area. Websites like Zillow, Rentometer, and local real estate listings can give you information on the going rates for comparable units. This research can provide evidence to support your case if the proposed rent is above the average for similar properties.

Communication

Even if the rent hike follows the rules and is at market rates, you may still be able to negotiate if you feel the new amount is unreasonable or unaffordable for you. Communicate with the landlord by:

  • Expressing concerns in writing: Write a letter to your landlord expressing your concerns about the rent increase and your financial situation. Highlight your record as a good and responsible tenant.
  • Seeking an in-person discussion: Ask for an in-person meeting or a phone call to discuss the rent increase more personally with your landlord.

Collective negotiation

If negotiating one-on-one with your landlord doesn't work, you may consider taking collective action along with other tenants facing the same rent increase. If multiple tenants oppose the rent hike, it puts more pressure on the landlord. The prospect of several units becoming vacant at once due to the increase gives you more leverage.

Deciding on your next steps

When faced with a rent increase, weigh your options carefully and decide on the best course of action based on your circumstances. Here are the paths you might consider:

Accept the increase

If the proposed increase is manageable within your budget and you value staying in your current home, accepting the new rent may be the simplest solution. This option allows you to avoid the hassle and expense of moving. Before agreeing, make sure you understand the new rental agreement terms and how they might affect your future financial planning.

Search for alternatives

If the new rent is beyond what you can comfortably afford, or if you feel the value doesn't justify the cost, it may be time to explore other housing options. Start by looking at listings within your budget in your desired area.

Consider the costs and logistics of moving, such as hiring movers, security deposits, and potential overlaps in rent. This approach can lead to finding a more affordable living situation that better fits your financial needs.

Tips to manage rent costs

Rent increases might be unavoidable, but there are options you can try to keep your rent as low as possible.

Sharing your space

If you have extra space in your current rental, finding a trustworthy roommate can help split the rent burden and make the monthly rent payments more manageable. If you decide to go this route, be sure to vet potential candidates by checking references, employment history, and credit reports. 

You should also make sure that your lease permits additional occupants to avoid any legal issues later on. 

Negotiating lease terms

You could offer to sign a long-term lease in exchange for a lower monthly rent. This could work since landlords often prefer the stability of a long-term tenant over the uncertainty and potential vacancy costs of frequently changing renters.

Another option is to propose prepaying rent for several months or even a year in advance in exchange for a discount. This can be particularly appealing to landlords who value financial security and reduced administrative tasks.

Month to month lease rent increase 

Rent increases on a month-to-month lease require tenants and landlords to understand their rights and obligations under local laws. While rent hikes are often legal, knowledge about notice periods, discrimination protections, and negotiation strategies can help you reach a fair outcome.

For tenants facing an unaffordable increase, exploring alternative housing options can help you maintain financial stability. Landlords must carefully follow proper procedures to remain compliant and avoid disputes. Open communication and a willingness to compromise can lead to a reasonable resolution.

Renters and property owners should also stay current on rental regulations and market trends. This foundation allows month-to-month agreements to provide flexibility while keeping rent amounts equitable.

Can a landlord raise rent on month-to-month leases? FAQs

What are the disadvantages of a month-to-month lease?

A month-to-month lease can cause instability in a tenant's living situation, since the landlord can end the lease with relatively short notice. There's also a lack of long-term financial security for tenants who may face frequent rent increases or sudden eviction.

What is the most a landlord can raise rent?

The maximum rent increase a landlord can impose differs depending on local regulations. Some regions have no restrictions, while others limit the increase to a certain percentage annually or tie it to the inflation rate. Areas with rent control or stabilization laws may further restrict the amount.

What is the law for month-to-month tenants in New York State?

In New York State, landlords must give month-to-month tenants written notice at least 30 days before any change in the tenancy terms, including rent increases or lease termination. Tenants also have certain protections under rent stabilization laws in specific regions like New York City, which have further limits on rent hikes and provide additional rights to tenants.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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