The past couple years have been a wild ride for renters. Maybe you put your head down and plowed through the tough times. Or maybe you took advantage of the break renters caught when the federal government paused rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. (No shame if that was you—we all need a little help now and then!)
But now those breaks are over, and the rental market has changed big time!
Rent increases are surging across the country, and many renters are having to make tough choices about where they can afford to live. We’ll help you understand what’s causing rent increases—and more important, what you can do about it.
What’s Causing Rent Increases?
Ever wonder why rent increases every year? There are lots of reasons. In fact, rent should go up occasionally to keep up with rising costs—after all, your landlord has to make a living too!
How much rent should increase depends on factors like the economy, where you live and any improvements your landlord makes to your dwelling.
We don’t know what your landlord has (or hasn’t) done to your place lately, but we do know a thing or two about the economy. This year, there are two big economic reasons why rent is so high: inflation and housing shortages.
Let’s take a look at how these factors affect rent increases.
We all feel the pain right away when gas and grocery prices go up. But rent increases usually take longer to hit your wallet because they don’t happen until you renew your lease. Then, look out!
The national median rent increased to $1,312 in 2021—nearly 18% higher than the year before!1 Some cities saw even bigger rent spikes. In the first half of 2021, rent in Boise, Idaho, increased by a whopping 27%.2 That means an apartment that cost $1,500 in January went for $1,905 in June. Ouch!
Another reason why rent is so high is that there just aren’t enough available apartments and rental homes. That’s due to inventory, vacancy and home ownership rates.
Inventory refers to the number of affordable apartments and rental homes that exist. And right now, there’s a shortage of both.
It’s hard to know just how big that shortage is because the numbers depend on who you ask. Most estimates say the housing market lacks anywhere from 1.8 million to 3.8 million rental units and homes.3,4
But the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates that low-income renters face an even bigger shortage of 6.8 million affordable, available rental homes.5
No matter which estimate is the most accurate, the NLIHC has a point: It’s easiest for high-income renters to afford rent increases, while low-income renters are much more likely to struggle as rent prices rise.
If that’s you, hang tight—we’ll give you some advice on coping with (and maybe even stopping) a rent increase.
Vacancy refers to how many apartments and rental homes are actually empty and available for people to move into.
There are far fewer vacant rental units these days. In fact, at the end of 2021, only about 4% of apartments in the U.S. were actually available for rent.6 Freddie Mac, the government’s housing finance company, says that’s far below the ideal vacancy rate of 13%.7
Why so few vacancies? There are a ton of renters right now. Before the pandemic, the U.S. census counted 44.1 million renter households.8 And while the next set of official numbers hasn’t come in yet, most experts think there may be even more renters now that people are getting new jobs, getting back on their feet after the pandemic, and moving into their own places again.
Find expert agents to help you buy your home.
Simply put, there are a lot of people who want (or need) to rent, so rental housing is filling up more than normal.
Yep—homeownership rates affect you as a renter too!
The current real estate trends for home buyers and sellers include low inventory, rising construction costs and high buyer demand. In other words, there aren’t as many houses for sale as normal, and building a new one is pricey.
So a lot of people who want to buy a house can’t. That means they have to keep renting—and filling up the few vacant apartments that are left. And since homeowners (or would-be homeowners in this case) tend to earn more money than the average renter, they’re willing to pay higher rent prices.9
That’s a big win for landlords. They’re trying to recover costs after the rent moratoriums of the pandemic, and they deserve to bring home a fair income just like you. They wouldn’t be very good businesspeople if they didn’t charge a fair market rate for their rental properties!
For landlords, it’s fairly easy to find tenants who will pay higher rents right now. But what if you’re the tenant who can’t pay that rent increase?
What You Can Do if Your Rent Increases
Okay, so all those big economic reasons why rent is so high are good to know. But they don’t really help if you’re dealing with a rent increase right now.
The good news is, you can do something about your situation! Here are some ways to handle (and maybe even stop) a rent increase:
Don’t wait on the government to fix it.
The federal government is going to enact policies to help relieve rising housing costs. Supposedly. One day. Maybe.
It can be tempting to sit around and wait on those policies to take effect—especially if you benefited from a rent moratorium before.
But we all need to face the cold, hard truth: Those policies are still in the works, and there’s no clear timeline for when (or if) help will arrive. And even if Congress does pass a law about housing prices, you might not qualify for any breaks the law allows.
Oh, and one more brutal (but true) fact: You will never win with your rent—or any of your finances—if you sit around waiting for the government to swoop in and rescue you.
You are responsible for your money. You are in control of your life. You are the hero in your story. So get out there and act like it!
Not sure where to start? We can teach you how to take control of your money. And you can try these other ways of dealing with a rent increase.
Know your rights.
Okay, so the bad news is that Uncle Sam won’t magically stop your rent increase anytime soon (and probably not ever). The good news is, there are laws in place right now to protect renters from truly unfair situations, like these:
Rent Increase Caps
Many states and cities limit how much landlords can increase rent at once.
For example, Oregon capped rent increases at 9.9% in 2022.10 So if you live in Oregon and you pay $1,500 a month, your landlord can increase your rent to $1,648.50 at most. So if they try to charge you $1,800 all of a sudden, that’s a no-go.
Find out about rent increase caps in your area so you know how much your landlord can legally raise your rent.
Rent Increase Letters
Almost every state requires landlords to give you an official, written letter telling you about any upcoming rent increase. Just telling you out loud won’t cut it.
Your landlord also has to give you the rent increase letter well in advance. How much notice you get for a rent increase depends on the rules in your state or city, but it could be anywhere from one to six months. That should give you enough time to rework your budget if you want to stay—or to look for a new place if the change in rent is just too much.
Rent Increase Discrimination
Landlords cannot use rent increases to discriminate or retaliate against you—and most landlords would never dream of doing something awful like that to their tenants. But there’s always a small handful of scumbags who will try to take advantage of others and do shady stuff. That is absolutely wrong—and it’s worth fighting!
If your landlord tries to discriminate against you, get back at you, give you too little notice, or go over the rent cap in your area, you can contest the rent increase. You can try to dispute it with the rental agency itself, or you can take your complaint to a consumer rights organization like the Better Business Bureau or the state attorney general.
You can even sue your landlord if the situation is really bad—like in a clear case of discrimination. Of course, court cases can take a long time, and legal fees add up, so don’t file a frivolous lawsuit. This should only be a last resort if your landlord did something truly illegal and unjust.
Negotiate for a better rate.
Landlords like having good tenants who don’t tear stuff up, pay the rent late, or skip payments altogether. So if you keep your place clean, always pay the rent on time, and act pleasant, now’s your chance to remind your landlord what a good tenant you are!
They’d probably rather skip the rent increase to keep you around than gamble on getting somebody who may trash the place or behave like a total pain in the you-know-what.
You may also be able to lock in a lower rent if you commit to a longer lease. Signing an 18-month (or even two-year) lease can help keep your rent affordable.
Last but not least, you may want to unite with other tenants who are also facing rent increases. A landlord might overlook complaints from one or two people, but they’re more likely to meet you in the middle when there’s a group.
P.S. Don’t worry if you’re not the in-your-face, confrontational type. You can learn how to negotiate well—and that includes knowing when to be quiet!
Stick to a budget.
Here’s a wild fact for you: Around 10.4 million American renters (aka one out of every four renter households) spend more than half their monthly income on rent.11 And another 20 million spend more than 30% on rent.12
That’s way too much! Your rent should cost 25% or less of your take-home pay. That’s it. The end. So if you bring home $5,000 a month and your landlord wants to charge you $1,800 for rent? No way! That’s 36% of your income—aka, too dang much!
We know housing is one of your biggest expenses. But if you’re overpaying on rent, you won’t have enough money left to live on, much less save, pay off debt, or build wealth. And that is not the kind of life you want.
To keep your housing costs in check, you’ve got to make and stick to a budget. Otherwise, your rent could creep up until you’re spending so much money on a place to live that you can’t actually afford to live there.
Increase your income.
So let’s say you make a budget, and no matter which way you slice it, there’s just too much month left at the end of the money. At this point, you don’t have a rent increase problem. You have an income problem.
The good news is you can make extra money.
Maybe you can finally ask for that raise at work—or get a new job. Maybe it’s time to pick up a side hustle. Good at working with your hands? Fix people’s cars or houses. Got a safe, comfy car? Drive for a rideshare or delivery service! Or if you’re driving a ticking time bomb to get through Baby Step 2, skip the car-based side hustles and find something that works for you, like tutoring or sales.
The point is, whoever you are and whatever you’re good at, there’s a side hustle out there for you. Just remember: Your rent should still only be 25% of your income. Don’t break your back working day and night to keep a rental home you truly can’t afford.
Ask the landlord to throw in other items.
Okay, so if (and only if) you can afford to stay in your apartment with the rent increase, see if the landlord will make it worth your while. Ask if they’ll include any upgrades, services or utilities to help you get more value out of your place.
Maybe you can talk your landlord into including the electric bill in your rent. Or maybe you can get them to upgrade to a new washing machine that doesn’t go off-balance every 20 minutes. Think about what would make your place better, and then ask for it. Who knows? You may just get what you want!
Get a roommate.
For you super social people, this probably sounds like a win-win. A new friend and cheaper rent? Yes, please!
For the rest of you, taking on a roommate may not sound as fun. And we get it. Having a roommate isn’t always easy. You need independence. You need space. You need a reality check.
The fact is, sometimes we have to do things we aren’t super crazy about in the short term so we can win with our money (and our life) in the long term. So if paying some crazy high-dollar rent is going to run your savings account into the ground, then get some help!
Split the costs with a roommate, and you’ll likely end up paying even less than your current rent—score! And who knows? Your roommate may become one of your best friends.
A word to the wise, though: Interview several candidates, and choose someone who’s a good match. If one of you is a total slob and the other is a neat freak, it could be a disaster. On the flip side, remember that you don’t have to have every single thing in common with your roommate. It’s important to deal with conflicts in a healthy way and build a real human connection with your roomie.
This can be hard to swallow, especially if you love your rental home or apartment. It can be hard to give up the perfect location, a super cool view or the first place you’ve really felt at home in a long time. Heck, you may not even want to give up your landlord if you’ve got a good one!
But if you’ve tried everything and you simply can’t afford a rent increase, then you can’t continue living there. Period. Overpaying on rent will put you in a financial bind, and it could keep you from reaching your money goals for years to come. That’s just too big of a sacrifice to make—no matter how cool your place is.
If you do decide to move, don’t do it alone. Work with a trusted real estate agent. Yep—real estate agents can help you find your next place to rent!
And an Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) will do you one better. These agents actually care about helping you win with money—not just making a quick buck for themselves. They’ll talk to you about your budget and needs, then help you find a place you can actually afford. That’s why we call them RamseyTrusted . . . because we trust them to put your needs first. Period.