Apartment Lease Renewal: 6 Important Tips to Avoid a Renter Apocalypse
Published on October 2nd, 2018
By Jennifer Oppriecht
It’s almost apartment lease renewal time, commonly referred to as the Renter Apocalypse. Take action, or zombie renters on the prowl may rent your apartment out from under you.
During the fall in Madison, a Renter Apocalypse occurs. It’s when apartment-searching zombies start crawling all over town, relentlessly seeking out unsigned renewal leases.
The Renter Apocalypse can take place in any city, and in some cities, it’s a year-round occurrence. Here are six tips to help you avoid the Renter Apocalypse!
Must-know facts about renewing your apartment lease
Before we get to the tips, let’s take a look at some facts that apply to leases here in Madison, WI, and in most lands traversed by zombies.
Fact: Your lease doesn’t automatically renew — and a landlord doesn’t have to rent to you again.
Let’s start by addressing a big misconception among newbie renters (and some veterans too): Leases don’t automatically renew.
You as a renter don’t have right of first refusal. You may think you’ve got squatters’ rights, but you don’t. Property owners don’t HAVE to let you renew (but they usually want you to). Legally, the renewal process is a courtesy not a requirement.
Typically, a lease only covers one year, and it doesn’t guarantee you get to stay for a second year. If you know you’re in it for the long haul, request a longer lease term right off the bat. A 2- or 3-year lease term can be golden to a property owner.
FACT: Renewal timing is determined by demand.
If you waited in line to get your current apartment, or signed the lease for your current apartment before winter break, chances are you’re going to be asked if you want to renew your lease for the following fall in October or November.
Yes, even though you just moved there in August, landlords are already fielding inquiries about your apartment.
FACT: Renewing before you’re ready can be risky.
We get it. It takes time to make decisions about roommates; gauge your expenses; and see if the location of the apartment matches your needs for next year.
Unfortunately, if your future is up in the air, it may be best to wait to sign and risk losing your ability to renew. You have to remember that if you resign your lease, but then change your mind later, the apartment – and the rent – will be your responsibility until a new resident is found to take your place. Is it worth the risk?
FACT: Owners prefer to have you renew your lease.
Owners love renewals! They want you to stay in your current apartment and, if possible,will work with you on the timing of your renewal. For example, Steve Brown Apartments may ask for your renewal in early November, but not require your final decision until yours is the last remaining apartment in the building.
FACT: Downtown apartments rent faster than you think.
For the seasoned downtown renter, this comes as no surprise. Downtown Madison is hot, and students especially want to be close to campus. But do you realize how heavy the market demand can be?
A building like Lucky Apartments can rent up to 50% of their apartments the first week they go on the market. Many downtown owners will start getting inquiries and building waiting lists in October for a following August lease. The demand is intense.
FACT: If you don’t renew your lease by the deadline, you can change your mind and renew later, BUT…
If you can’t make up your mind by the deadline, you can renew down the road. Any owner would be happy to welcome you back. But keep in mind that you’re always at the mercy of the marketplace.
If you’ve been sitting on your renewal paperwork for too long, somebody from the outside market may snatch your place up.
Those are the facts — and inspire a few frequently asked questions. So here are a few FAQs about the facts:
FAQs about the Facts
Can a landlord not renew a lease without a reason?
Legally, they can (within fair housing laws). But many would prefer to keep you as a tenant.
What happens if my landlord does not renew my lease?
Unfortunately, you’ll need to look for a new apartment. That’s why it’s best to be proactive.
How do I renew my lease for my apartment?
You need to reach out to your landlord and inquire. Generally you will receive a renewal letter, but you can be proactive and ask well before your renewal time.
How far in advance do I have to check on a lease renewal?
As early as possible. In fact, when you’re signing your first lease, that’s a good time to find out when you should be aware of renewing the lease.
Can a landlord automatically renew my lease?
How much notice do I get if the landlord won’t renew my lease?
A typical renewal notice cycle starts 60 to 90 days prior to the lease expiration. This varies greatly however. It’s best to decide how much time YOU need to prepare to move and use that date as your guide.
If you need 5 months notice, ask your landlord at that point if there’s any reason you won’t be offered a renewal. If you only need 30 days notice, then just wait to hear from your landlord.
6 renewal tips to avoid your lease being eaten by zombies
Now that you understand the facts (and the FAQs), let’s move on to our tips to help you avoid the lease-seeking zombies!
1. If you want to stay, don’t delay in renewing your own lease
There’s a simple rule of thumb: If you KNOW you want to stay, don’t delay.
Renewals are determined by demand, and your property owner is in the business of renting apartments. If someone wants your apartment and you’re hesitating to renew, you’ll likely lose it.
If you live in a great place but you’re procrastinating about renewing, then don’t be surprised if it’s here today, gone tomorrow. Talk to your property owner; they’ll likely know what demand is like for your place and can let you know if you can afford to wait longer.
2. Be mindful of a lease renewal notice period
Typically property owners will send out notices when the lease renewal period has begun. Keep track of those dates!
3. Don’t think people will overlook your place
Remember how cutthroat you were last year when you were searching for the ideal place? Expect someone cut from the same cloth will be on the prowl this year. And they’ll likely find your place. Remember, the zombies are coming.
A good owner should be able to keep you updated on the demands for your apartment, or new openings that might be ideal for you. But pay attention to whether or not your apartment is being posted for showings!
If there is a lot of foot traffic where the landlord is showing prospects your unit, you should probably be more concerned and make decisions. If there haven’t been any showings, you probably have less to worry about.
4. Talk to your property owner / landlord about renewing your lease
Property owners – aka landlords – don’t want to lose a good renter. So even if you’re hemming and hawing, they might be able to quickly reassign you to another apartment, or rent other apartments similar to yours first, just in case zombies are trying to claim yours.
Keep the lines of communication open with your landlord. Let them know where you’re at, and what your plans are. Have concrete dates in mind. For example, “I don’t know yet, but I’d really appreciate having until ___ date to decide” is always much better than “I don’t know when I’m going to make a decision.”
You’re in a situation where neither you nor your landlord is dictating the timeline. It’s the marketplace. The best thing you can do is to communicate with your landlord and let them know what you want, so when the market moves, you’ll know your options.
5. Think twice about renewing your lease and then SUBLETTING your apartment
An unconventional tactic is to renew and then sublet your apartment. It gives you the flexibility to stay if you’d like, or leave if other options beckon. If you’re in a nice apartment in a desirable location, you’ll likely find someone to take over your lease or a new roommate eager to move in.
You may want to check with the owner of your apartment on the likelihood of that happening. There are usually fees required when breaking a lease, but re-renting or subletting is a possibility.
Your apartment owner may have subletters waiting in the wings, but timing is key…wait too long and those on the waiting list will have moved on.
6. Negotiating lease renewal is an option
Many of the items we’ve listed above are not set in stone. You can negotiate a lease renewal with your property owner. Depending on their policies, you can negotiate the renewal timing, and even the rent. It’s all up to the landlord.
Sorry, we also HAve tips for zombies
Ok, full zombie-supporting disclosure.
Steve Brown Apartments is a property owner, and we are subject to market forces. We need to rent apartments to stay in business, so we make renewal decisions based on demand from the Renter Apocalypse.
We get calls for showings as early as September. So while we want our renters to renew, we also have to cater to the zombies in case you don’t.
If you are a zombie and you can still read — even though technically dead — here are tips on finding the apartment that’s right for you.
ZOMBIE Tip #1: DON’T WAIT IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
If you have your heart set on a place, don’t wait on it. Inquire ASAP. Even if the property is unlisted, call the property owner direct. (Use your best zombie voice.)
ZOMBIE Tip #2: MOVE FAST ON THESE HOT NEIGHBORHOODS – ER, BUILDINGS
People always think that neighborhoods rent the fastest. That’s no longer the case. It’s actually the building, not the area. The fastest to rent will be:
- New(er) high-rises with good reputations and posh amenities
- 5-10 bedroom party houses
- Inexpensive studios and rooms
- Inexpensive one-bedrooms
ZOMBIE Tip #3: CHILL OUT IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A “NORMAL” APARTMENT
Here’s how the timing generally plays out:
- Move on the inexpensive rooms, studios, and one bedrooms before winter break, as that’s when they start to sell out.
- Move on houses and high-demand buildings in October and November, the year prior to move in. (eg. October 2018 for an August 2019 move in)
- Rent all other one- and two-bedroom apartments before Spring Break, this is when they start to sell out.
- If you aren’t picky, wait until July on three, four and five bedroom apartments in high-rise buildings that aren’t in high-demand. There is more supply than demand and they’ll likely be discounted.
- If you aren’t picky and don’t have to be in a place by a certain time, wait until mid-August – for any size apartment. People make all kinds of last-minute changes and you can get a really great place for a steal. The key here is you have to be flexible.
ZOMBIE Tip #4: DON’T TRUST A RENDERING OR MODEL IF YOU’RE RENTING SIGHT UNSEEN
If you’re interested in renting in an building that’s currently under construction, your tour will likely consist of viewing a generic rendering and a floorplan, or a 3-D model. (Don’t eat the model or step on it, zombie friend.)
Some property owners will include high-end furniture, rugs, or wall hangings in their model. That’s fine, but don’t expect that to appear in your apartment. Ask the property owners specifically what will be included in the apartment before you sign the lease.
ZOMBIE Tip #5: CONSIDER THE FLOORPLAN WHEN RENTING SIGHT UNSEEN
Along the lines of the previous tip, when you’re renting sight unseen, ask about all the specifics in the floorplan.
For example, what’s the height of the ceiling? How big is the balcony, and what does it look out onto? What kind of flooring is included? Do all of the bedrooms have windows? Is there a balcony? Do the windows open? How big is 10’x10’, really? This post we wrote about renting sight unseen contains many relevant questions.
ZOMBIE Tip #6: LOOK BEYOND THE POOL
Many of the newer apartments offer all the amenities, such as swimming pools and fitness centers. We know zombies like a dip in the pool, but be careful about sacrificing function, quality and service to get all that amenity bling. How many bodies are in that pool every night and how often is it cleaned?
For example, do your closets have doors? Are the windows tiny? Do they open? Do you have windows in your bedroom? How much staff do they hire? How often are common areas monitored and cleaned? Look at all the specs, and see where apartment owners skimped on the stuff that really impacts your day-to-day living.
ZOMBIE Tip #7: ASK ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION
A place that looks great may not sound great – at least on the inside. Apartments made with skimpy walls won’t keep the noise at bay.
Older buildings tend to have more solid construction, so inquire as to how the walls are built. They should have special baffling foams for soundproofing between the walls and floors. It makes a big difference and will help you zombies muffle the sounds of your victims.
ZOMBIE Tip #8: REVIEW THE AMENITIES
The top priority when you’re going to school or working downtown is to make your day-to-day life as easy as possible. City living can be hectic, and little struggles – like finding a parking spot – can cause big delays.
Look into the extras apartment owners offer that are beyond the walls of the apartment. Parking, on-site security, fitness centers, online rent payments – these are all items that can take the grrr out of the daily grind.
ZOMBIE Tip #9: WATCH OUT FOR RENT SCAMS
In the heat of the moment, when you’re rushing to get the hot property, you’re vulnerable to rental scams. And believe us, they exist. Scams like the middleman scam, the non-existent rental scam, and the sublet scam are all out there.
This post provides details on each of the apartment rental scams, along with what you need to do to protect yourself. (PS – if you actually find a person conducting the scam, feel free to eat their brain. No need for due process here.)
ZOMBIE Tip #10: GO STRAIGHT TO THE PROPERTY OWNERS
Zombies, current apartment renters are not the only ones who get to talk to the owners. You can contact landlords directly, and ask what’s on the market.
They may have just talked to a renter that day who decided not to renew. If the online listings haven’t been updated, then you’ve got the scoop. Pick up the phone!
THE RENTER APOCALYPSE IS UPON US! TAKE LEASE RENEWAL ACTION!
Ok renters (and zombies), time is running out. Zombies will take to the streets – some even the moment after they pick up the keys to this year’s place.
Plan your next move and avoid losing your apartment and/or having your brain devoured. The Renter Apocalypse is here!