Rent increases are an inevitable part of any tenant's life. In most areas without rent control, there's no limit on the amount your landlord can increase the rent. But landlords can't raise the rent on a whim: When your landlord can raise the rent, along with the way your landlord must send you a rent increase notice, are governed by statute in most states.
Also, in most states, landlords can't increase your rent to retaliate against you for exercising certain tenant rights, such as reporting your landlord's code violations. In all states, it's also illegal for landlords to raise rent based on discriminatory reasons.
Landlords can't raise rent during the term of a lease. The only exceptions are when:
In most states, once a year-long lease has expired, the landlord can raise the rent to any amount supported by the market. However, in states or cities with rent control, there might be a limit on how much the landlord can raise the rent.
It's easier for landlords to raise the rent when you have a month-to-month rental agreement. When you have a month-to-month rental agreement, your landlord can raise the rent (or change any other term of the rental agreement) by giving you notice in the manner required by state law.
In most states, notices to increase rent must be in writing, delivered to the tenant in a certain manner, and be delivered a specified number of days before the increase will take effect (usually 30 days). Also, the rent increase notice must be in writing; in some states, certified mail is required.
Oral notices to increase rent aren't valid in most states and, unless you specifically agree to the rent increase, don't bind you to paying a higher rent.
The Nolo article State Rules on Notice Required to Change or Terminate a Month-to-Month Tenancy breaks down each state's law on the amount of notice required to raise the rent.
If your landlord gives you improper notice of a rent increase, or if you think your landlord is raising your rent for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, you have options.
How you respond to an improper rent increase notice depends on whether you have a lease or a month-to-month rental agreement.
As a month-to-month tenant, it's important to keep in mind that your landlord has a lot of flexibility—and usually the option of giving you only 30 days' notice—to raise your rent. If you want to stay in your rental and your landlord's proposed rent increase isn't a huge increase, you might be better off accepting the increase without pointing out the faulty notice. After all, the landlord can simply correct the error and try again.
Ask the landlord to put the increase in writing, so that the amount of the increase can't mysteriously grow. The increase should be noted in a new rental agreement or a written amendment to the existing rental agreement.
It's a somewhat different situation, however, if you have a lease. Because one of the main advantages of a lease is the protection from rent increases during the term of the lease, it's a good idea to push back against any proposed rent increases.
In some instances, though, it might be a mistake to point out to your landlord that the rent payment clause can't be changed during the life of the lease. If you've been habitually late paying rent or have broken some other significant provision for which you could be evicted (for example, your boyfriend has moved in, violating your lease's restrictions on occupants), you could end up winning the battle but losing the war. In short, if the landlord has a legal ground for eviction, it might be better to go along with the rent payment change than to stand on your rights and invite the end of your tenancy—especially if you want to stay in the rental for a long time.
Landlords can't raise the rent in a discriminatory manner—for example, only for members of a certain race or religion or for families with children. Proving discrimination can be difficult, but if you believe you have solid evidence of the discrimination—such as statements from other tenants who've experienced similar treatment due to their status—you might be on solid footing to fight a rent increase.
Also, in most states your landlord can't use a rent increase (or evict you or decrease services) in retaliation against you for exercising a specified legal right. For example, if you make a legitimate complaint to a public agency about defective conditions in your rental unit, your landlord may not raise your rent to punish you.
The law in some states assumes a bad intent on the part of your landlord when the increase comes within a certain time frame of when you exercised the legal right. For example, in Arizona, evidence of a tenant complaint within six months before the alleged retaliatory action creates a presumption that the landlord is acting in a retaliatory manner. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1381 (2023).)
Rent increases often trigger security deposit increases. Here's how it happens: Many states limit the amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit. Typically, deposits are capped as a multiple of the monthly rent—for example, the maximum deposit might be twice the monthly rent.
So, when your landlord legally increases your rent, they can also legally increase the security deposit. For example, if the deposit is twice the monthly rent, and your $1,000 rent has gone up to $1,100, the deposit limit rises from $2,000 to $2,200.
Legally, there's nothing you can do about a rent hike that doesn't violate a rent control law and isn't discriminatory or retaliatory. The landlord can charge as much as the market will bear (unless there's rent control). But, practically, you can appeal to your landlord's business sense.
Although a landlord's goal is to make money, smart landlords realize that high rents are not the only route to high profits. Solvent, long-term tenants are the best tenants because they're low-maintenance—they don't have to be evicted, sued, coddled, cleaned up after, scolded for breaking the rules, or interviewed and investigated as part of the time- and money-consuming new-tenant application process.
If you're a good, long-term tenant and can convince your landlord that the rent hike will make you move, your landlord might at least moderate the increase. Your leverage with the landlord will increase if you can show that many other stable, long-term tenants are also upset and considering moving. If the rent hike affects others in your building, work together to present your collective plea. Remember, even in a tight rental market, reliable, long-term tenants are hard to find.
For more information on responding to a rent increase and your rights as a tenant in general, check out Every Tenants' Legal Guide.