While landlords generally have the right to increase rent, they must comply with certain rules about timing and notice. Tenants should know these rules and understand what to do when a landlord violates them. Usually, unless rent control applies, the only way to contest a rent increase is to argue that the landlord raised the rent to discriminate against you or to retaliate against you for exercising a legal right. If you plan to make this argument, you should know what you need to prove to succeed.
When Can a Landlord Raise the Rent?
If you have a lease, your landlord can raise the rent at the end of the lease period. They can then offer you a new lease with different terms, such as an increased rent. However, the landlord can raise the rent before the end of the lease period if the original lease provides this option or if you agree.
If you have a month-to-month rental agreement, by contrast, the landlord must provide written notice to raise the rent. In most states, this period is 30 days, although it may be 15 days if you pay rent in 15-day increments. Some states require 45 or 60 days of notice.
Improper Notice for Rent Increases
What do you do if the landlord fails to give you proper notice for increasing the rent? If the landlord does not give you enough notice, you need to pay the existing rent amount on the regular due date, but you do not need to pay the additional rent. However, assuming that the notice is otherwise valid, you will need to pay the additional rent within 30 days from when you receive the notice. In other words, the notice of the increased rent will become valid once 30 days have passed. The passage of time alone fixes this type of problem.
On the other hand, perhaps the landlord failed to provide the notice in writing or by certified mail, as is required in some states. An oral notice is not enforceable, and you do not need to pay the increase in the rent, although you need to pay the existing rent amount on time. The landlord can fix this problem, however, by simply providing notice in writing, and it will take effect within 30 days of that time.
Some tenants do not oppose a rent increase that their landlord requests orally. If you are not interested in contesting the increase, you should still make sure to get the increase in writing, perhaps by creating a new rental agreement with the new amount. You can also send a letter to the landlord that states the increased amount and any other new terms in the agreement. You should ask the landlord to sign and date it and return it to you. This will give you a written record of the increased amount in case a dispute arises later.
Contesting a Rent Increase
Unless you live in an area governed by rent control, your landlord likely has the right to increase the rent as much as they want. (Connecticut is the only state in which a tenant can challenge a rent increase for being excessive.) Some landlords try to foster a good relationship with their tenants by setting a policy in advance for how much the rent will increase. If this policy appears in writing in your lease or rental agreement, you can probably enforce it. Guarantees that are not in writing or not made to you directly probably cannot be enforced.
Even if there is no rent control and no written policy, however, your landlord does not have the right to increase the rent as a way of discriminating or retaliating against you. For example, the landlord cannot raise the rent only for Muslim tenants, only for Hispanic tenants, or only for tenants with families. The landlord also cannot raise the rent to strike back against you for exercising a legal right, such as reporting building code violations to the local government or withholding rent when the situation permits it. You do not need to pay this type of increase. This likely will lead to an eviction proceeding based on your non-payment of rent, at which you can defend against the eviction by arguing that the increase was discriminatory or retaliatory.
Factors in Determining Retaliation
In some situations, raising the rent within a certain time of a tenant exercising a legal right is presumed to be retaliatory. This means that the landlord will need to prove that the increase was not retaliatory. Otherwise, the burden of proof is generally on the tenant. Some common factors that the court will consider include the size of the rent increase, the time that passed between the tenant’s exercise of a legal right and the rent increase, the tenants to whom the increase applies, and the landlord’s history of dealing with tenants. A court may also consider the degree to which your exercise of a legal right placed a burden on the landlord, possibly motivating them to take revenge.