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5 Steps to Modify a Lease

By Tali Wee of Zillow


Understanding the terms and conditions of a lease agreement is an essential part of being a responsible renter. During a typical signing process, the prospective renter and landlord sit down to review the details of a rental unit and accompanying agreement terms. Before signing, a renter has every right to request or negotiate changes to a proposed lease. However, following protocol in this situation is the best way to convince a property manager why these changes are reasonable requests.

Follow these five steps to best ensure property management understands and accepts potential lease alterations.

Time It Right

Establish open communication with the landlord at the end of the application process. Approaching property management with a request too early in the process is a red flag to the landlord that the future tenant may be demanding. Request changes after the application is accepted and before signing on the dotted line.

Ideally, all lease modifications are made prior to making a written commitment. However, unforeseen circumstances can force an adjustment during the lease period. Make sure to time these requests appropriately. Some property management companies rely on rent income to pay for repairs and mortgage costs. Communicating with a landlord about a financial issue and requesting a payment extension is acceptable, but avoiding making the request the night before rent is due.

Show Respect

The property management company likely has more experience with rental agreements than the typical tenant. They are aware of state regulations; managing multiple tenants at once and signing various leases throughout the calendar year requires high familiarity with the industry. Assuming the management company is legitimate and operating ethically, their proposed leases should reflect federal and state laws.

Don’t attempt to argue provisions that cannot be changed, such as maximum occupancy per unit. Do research prior to signing a lease which rules are required by the government and which rules are set by the landlord. Attempting to argue terms that aren’t legally adjustable is a waste of time. Applicants who arrive at signing prepared to discuss feasible alterations are more likely to generate respect from the lessor.

Keep demands at a minimum. For example, if the manager is giving a break on rent for the first month after signing, be gracious and pay the following month in full. If money is an issue from the start, the rental is not a good fit budget-wise and should be avoided altogether.

Be Realistic

Request addendums on a strict, as-needed basis. Depending on how competitive the rental market is at the time of signing a lease, the landlord may have the upper hand. For example, it is not a good idea to try to negotiate free parking when property management has eager applicants on standby who are willing to pay for parking. It may be better to accept minor inconveniences in order to find and secure a rental property, as long as they don’t infringe on the tenant’s legal rights. Being picky may force property managers to turn to the next tenant who is willing to follow the rules without complaint.

Be Flexible

Depending on how much money the owner is putting into the apartment or building, a rent reduction may not be a practical request. Imagine a building’s supervisor is putting together plans to update the unit’s kitchen. The future tenant is fortunate to be moving into a unit with a modernized kitchen. Given these circumstances, a reasonable tenant would not request a rent reduction. With a renovated kitchen, the landlord could charge significantly more on the open market. The tenant should be happy the landlord is making improvements to the rental prior to move-in without attempting to raise the rent to recoup construction costs.

Double Check Agreements

As stated before, the biggest mistake a renter can make is failing to fully understand a lease. If the landlord agrees to changes, make sure to draft a new document to reflect the changes before signing. All parties should be present during signing. Don’t forget to save a copy for personal records and compare all papers to ensure agreements are consistent.

Negotiating with a landlord takes preparation and a positive attitude – especially to attempt a favorable outcome for the tenant. Keep these five tips in mind when speaking with a landlord during signing. Remember, there is no shame in enlisting the help of a friend or legal professional to fully comprehend a lease agreement.


About the Independent Financial Advisor

Robert Pagliarini, PhD, CFP®, EA has helped clients across the United States manage, grow, and preserve their wealth for the past 25 years. His goal is to provide comprehensive financial, investment, and tax advice in a way that was honest and ethical. In addition, he is a CFP® Board Ambassador, one of only 50 in the country, and a real fiduciary. In his spare time, he writes personal finance books, finance articles for Forbes and develops email and video financial courses to help educate others. With decades of experience as a financial advisor, the media often calls on him for his expertise. Contact Robert today to learn more about his financial planning services.

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