If you receive a notice of rent increase, you have three options. You can:
- Pay and stay, or
- Refuse and move.
If you feel that the landlord's proposed rent increase is unreasonable or illegal and you want to keep your apartment, there are a number of ways you may be able to challenge or negotiate the proposed rent increase.
a. Make a Counter Offer
While landlords are not legally required to negotiate with tenants, you may be able to convince your landlord to reconsider or lower the amount of the increase. Make a counter offer. If you have a good relationship with the landlord, she may want to keep you as a tenant. Or ask the landlord to reconsider the increase because repairs are needed, or hold off on the increase at least until the repairs are made.
b. Join with Other Tenants
to Fight the Increase
Tenants in buildings facing rent increases have successfully worked together to negotiate agreements with their landlords that keep rents affordable and get repairs made.
As a tenant, you have important legal rights and you can strengthen your bargaining position by joining with other people in your building or other tenants who have the same landlord and are facing similar problems. If you suspect you are facing a rent increase as part of your landlord’s plan to empty your building, the best way to protect yourself and other tenants may be by starting or joining a tenant group. Remember – it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against you for starting or joining a tenant group.
As part of a tenant group, you can learn together about your legal rights and organizing strategies, research who really owns and controls your building, get support from tenant advocacy organizations and elected officials, and use your collective power to negotiate with the landlord for fair rents and better conditions.
- For more about how to challenge unfair rent increases, see Chapter 10: Getting Organized - Unfair Rent Increases and Displacement.
- For a sample collective bargaining agreement and other sample organizing forms see Forms 22-30.
- For more organizing support call a Tenant Organizing and Advocacy Group listed in the Directory.
c. Recent Examples of Successful Tenant Collective Bargaining
Tenant groups in Massachusetts are successfully persuading landlords to reconsider steep rent increases, building clear-outs and condominium conversions by negotiating “collective bargaining agreements.” Here are some examples.
Same Corporate Landlord
in Different Communities
In 2014-2015, a diverse group of tenants in separate buildings in Chelsea, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, Roxbury, and South Boston learned that their properties were owned by the same real estate investment corporation. Each property had between 3-10 units and had been acquired under different corporate names. After the change in ownership, all of the tenants were hit with unaffordable rent increases and eviction notices. The tenants joined City Life Vida Urbana and the Chinese Progressive Association (two bilingual tenant rights organizations) and learned that although their buildings were each bought under different corporate names, they were all managed by one management company and funded and controlled by the same few investors.
With support from City Life Vida Urbana and Chinese Progressive Association, the tenants organized and launched an aggressive publicity campaign, highlighting the management company’s unfair business practices and the mass displacement their practices were causing, which was mostly hurting families of color. Facing sustained pressure from the tenant associations, litigation costs in eviction cases defended by legal services, and mounting community resistance against their property development proposals, the real estate investment group agreed to negotiate.
Public officials stepped up to facilitate the negotiations. Represented by Greater Boston Legal Services attorneys, the two tenant groups successfully negotiated agreements with fair rents, fair treatment, repairs, and long term leases including:
- All tenants being evicted for a reason that was not their fault would get 4-year leases starting at their existing rents, with a 3% cap on each yearly rent increase; and
- All (hundreds) of the management company’s Section 8 voucher tenants would have rents with utility allowances that did not exceed 30% of the tenants’ adjusted income.
Small Tenant Groups
In 2014, four households in a single building in Mattapan joined City Life Vida Urbana after being hit with steep rent increases and eviction notices. The tenants organized into a small tenant association, and with the on-going support of City Life Vida Urbana, the association generated political pressure and publicity about their situation. With legal representation by the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, the tenant association successfully negotiated housing solutions that met the different needs of each household including:
- For three households, a 3-5-year lease, depending on the household’s initial affordable rent, with a 5% cap on any yearly rent increases.
- For one household that needed to relocate, a 1.5 year occupancy agreement with no rent increase.
For more about how to challenge unfair rent increases, see Chapter 10: Getting Organized - Unfair Rent Increases and Displacement.
2. Pay and Stay
Another option is that you can decide to accept the landlord’s rent increase demand and stay. Before you make this decision:
- Make sure that the landlord’s rent increase notice was proper. See Proper Notice of Rent Increase.
- Make sure you can afford the increase because once you pay the higher amount that will be your new agreed-upon rent.
- If you agree to pay, consider asking for a lease to lock in the rent so you are not hit with another rent increase demand in the near future.
a. Make Sure You Can Afford the Increase
It can be tempting to deal with the immediate stress of a rent increase notice and the pressure of a possible eviction by paying the rent increase that your landlord demands. However, consider whether you can really afford to pay the higher amount going forward as your new rent.
If you pay the increase even once, you will have “accepted” your landlord’s “offer” of a higher rent, and you will be obligated to pay this amount as the new rent going forward. If you later fail to pay the higher rent because it becomes unaffordable, the landlord can then seek to evict you for non-payment of rent based on a 14-day notice to quit.50 If you had rejected the rent increase and continued to pay just your old rent amount, the landlord would have had to use a 30-day “no fault” notice to quit to try to evict you.51
Remember – A notice to quit is just the first step in the eviction process and does not mean you have to move out by the date stated on the notice. No one can lawfully remove you or your belongings from your apartment without a final order of the court.
b. Consider Asking for a Lease
If you decide you are able to pay the rent increase going forward and agree to accept it as your new rent, but do not have a lease, you may want to negotiate a rental agreement or lease to lock in your new rent for a specific period. Having the rent locked in by a lease will prevent the landlord from demanding another rent increase in the near future. For more see Chapter 4: What Kind of Tenancy Do I Have - Tenants with Leases.
3. Refuse and Move
If you do not want to pay the rent increase or cannot afford to pay it, you should continue to pay the current rent while you look for a new apartment. As long as you continue to pay your current rent, your landlord is required to accept it.
If you do not pay the increase, however, the landlord may decide to start an eviction case against you. But while you continue to pay the current rent, your landlord must use a 30-day notice to quit for a no-fault eviction (an eviction that is not your fault). She cannot use a 14-day notice to quit for a non-payment of rent. The reason is that although you have not agreed to pay the increase, you are paying the agreed existing rent. For more see Chapter 12: Evictions - Receiving Proper Notice.
a. If You Get a Notice to Quit
Do not ignore a notice to quit. However, if you get a notice to quit for any reason, you do not have to move by the date stated on the notice. A notice to quit is just the first required step to start an eviction case.
If you are unable to negotiate an agreement with your landlord, and your landlord brings an eviction case in court, there are steps to take to protect yourself. Read Chapter 12: Eviction.
b. Landlord Accepts Current Rent after Notice to Quit
If your landlord gives you a notice to quit, but after that accepts the old rent amount without clearly letting you know that the rent money is being accepted "for use and occupancy only," your landlord has accepted you back as a tenant and has given up (waived) the right to evict you using the old notice to quit.52 If the landlord still wants to evict you, she must serve you with a new notice to quit to terminate your re-established tenancy.
c. Final Court Order Necessary to Evict
If you do not voluntarily leave, you can only be evicted from your apartment by an order of the court. No one can move you out of your home without a final order of the court (execution).
d. Stay of Eviction
Even if a judge gives the landlord permission to evict you, you can ask the judge for up to 6 months to find another apartment. If you are elderly or disabled, you may ask for up to a year to find a new apartment.53
IMPORTANT: There are many things to think through before you sign any agreement in court. Unless you definitely have another place to go, be very careful about signing an agreement in court with the landlord that you will move out by a certain date. If you are unable to move out by that date, the court agreement form often says your landlord can get a judgment to evict you without the court ever hearing your case and an execution allowing a sheriff to forcibly move you out. For more see Negotiating a Settlement of Your Case (Booklet 10).
52 . A notice to quit may be waived if a landlord accepts rent for a time after the expiration of the notice. Staples v. Collins, 321 Mass. 449, 451 (1947) (landlord who accepted rent without protest could not deny that acceptance of rent created a tenancy at will); but cf. Rubin v. Prescott, 362 Mass. 281 (1972) (holding that upon sale to a new landlord, tenants who were tenants at will under the old landlord, become tenants at sufferance under the landlord). Waiver is a question of fact that depends on the circumstances of each case. Gordon v. Sales, 337 Mass. 35, 36 (1958) (“payment and acceptance of rent for a period in advance of occupancy, are prima facie proof of the creation of tenancy at will” and controlling in the absence of a showing to the contrary, but “other facts may ... require a finding that the landlord did not intend to waive his right to possession.”); Jones v. Webb, 320 Mass. 702, 705 (1947) (landlord waived notice to quit when he cashed check on which tenant had written, above landlord's endorsement, that check was for "rent"); Slater v. Krinsky, 11 Mass. App. Ct. 941, 985 (1981) (rent accepted after notification that rent payments were only being received for “use and occupancy” was sufficient to prevent waiver); McCarthy v. Harris, 17 Mass. App. Ct. 1002 (1984) (although notice to terminate tenancy may be waived if landlord accepts rent for time subsequent to expiration of notice, no waiver by accepting rent where notice unequivocally stated that any monies paid by tenants were accepted for use and occupancy of premises and did not waive any of landlords' rights pursuant to notice, where similar language was placed on each of tenants' checks underneath landlord's endorsement, and where one tenant, as attorney, represented interests of his wife and himself, as tenants, thus having firsthand knowledge that landlords consistently maintained position that monthly checks were not for rent).