Fire Your Landlord and 10 Other Ways to Save on Rent

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There are many cities where renting is better than buying a house. But that apartment or rental home can still eat up more of your income than you would like. ‘

What can you do to save on rent? My friend lived in a big tent for half of each year, sometimes in a campground (for the showers), and other times for free out in the woods. He worked and saved up to move indoors during winter. But that story is just meant to suggest the range of possibilities. You probably don’t want to live in a tent (I don’t, and I’m a backpacker).

Instead, you can live well and still save thousands of dollars on rent using one of the ten suggestions here….

1. Fire That Landlord

When your lease expires (or if you don’t have one) check out rental units in similar or even better neighborhoods. With some luck and research you might find an apartment or house that is just as nice for $150 less per month. A move across town could cost a few hundred dollars, but saving $150 monthly adds up to $9,000 over the course of five years.

2. Trade Work for Rent

If you can paint or fix things or are willing to learn, you might talk a landlord into giving you cheaper rent in exchange for working on his place. If you see an apartment or house that needs work, approach the landlord with your proposal. Otherwise you can Google “trade work for rent” or “work rent exchange” plus the name of your city to see what shows up. Add “Craigslist” to the search for best results.

3. Live in Homes for Sale

Last year we were selling a condo we had bought as an investment, and a woman offered to rent it cheap but move out before we closed a sale. She claimed to have done this before, and pitched the idea as a way to keep the condo presentable while we got some income. We said no, but you could try this (she said it had worked for her more than once). And now there’s a company that makes the arrangements for you. If you apply and qualify, Caretakers of America will put you in a nice house where you “Pay a monthly fee that is far less than the cost of rent for a comparable home.” You have to keep the home in ready-to-show condition at all times, and when it sells they’ll find another place for you before you need to move. This might work best if you’re single and find moving exciting rather than tedious.

4. Calculate Total Expenses

The rental charge is not the whole picture. Consider what’s included and how much will other expenses be. To compare apples with apples, add up the rent, your best guess about utilities (some places clearly take more to heat or cool), other housing expenses, and commuting costs to your job and regular trips if the locations are not near each other. An apartment close to work that includes heat and has a grocery store nearby might be cheaper than one with lower rent.

5. Buy Out of Your Lease

Pay to cancel a lease? If your landlord isn’t familiar with the idea you can educate him. Suppose your apartment costs $975 per month and your landlord could easily rent it out again — maybe even at a higher rate, but you have many months to go on your current lease. Now suppose you found a place you like for $750 per month. It might make sense for you and your landlord if you “bought out” of your existing lease for $1,500. You would save that back in the first six months you lived in the new apartment, and then you would save $2,700 per year thereafter. Meanwhile your landlord might line up a tenant by the time you move out, and collect higher rent, but in any case he’ll get the $1,500 to cover the time it’s vacant.

6. Share Your Space

If you are single you might consider sharing an apartment. Find the right person and be sure the landlord is okay with the arrangement. If you don’t happen to have a friend who needs a place to rent you can find roommates online at sites like There are a couple ways to arrange the situation financially. The first is to just split everything equally as the bills come in. The second is to rent the place and then sublet to your roommate. The latter is almost always better. You avoid arguments about when bills should be paid and you might even collect more than half of the cost from your roommate, especially if he or she gets the bigger bedroom.

7. Be a Manager

An investor who bought a rental mobile home from me said he paid his manager $10 per hour and a free place to live for collecting rent and making repairs on his thirty rentals, and this was fifteen years ago. It was a full-time position. As a resident manager of an apartment complex or mobile home park you can get anything from discounted rent to free housing and a salary, depending on the number of units and your duties. These positions are occasionally advertised, but you can also just find places you like and offer your services.

8. Watch for Promotions

In cities where vacancy rates are high owners offer deals to get their apartments occupied. For example, the first time my wife and I moved to Tucson, Arizona, there were promotions going on at almost half of the apartment buildings in town. Typically you could get at least one month free of rent if you signed a six-month lease. If you get a good deal for a longer-term lease it also guarantees that your rent won’t go up for a while. And when you see “$500 to Move In” on a sign or “Two Months Free,” you might be dealing with a desperate owner, in which case you might use the next suggestion on our list…

9. Negotiate

You might be paying too much rent. Check this out carefully before you ask your landlord to lower what he or she charges. Go to Craigslist or the online classified ads of local papers and see what similar places are renting for. If you think you are paying too much, gather your evidence together and make your case to the landlord. This can work especially well if there are vacant apartments in your building and if your lease is about to expire. If you move, the landlord faces the expense of preparing and sitting on an empty apartment without income. You don’t have to throw that fact in his face; he knows. Just mention that you’ve been looking at other cheaper options but you would like to stay if the rent was lower.

10. Find a New Hometown

When my wife and I arrived in Tucson, Arizona the second time, a few moves ago, we found that rental rates were 30% lower than in Traverse City, Michigan, where we previously lived. And the climate was at least 30% better! We had an internet-based business, so it was easy to make the move. What if you have a job? Do you like it? Does it pay much? If you answered no to both of those questions, it might make sense to save up some money, find a town that you like which has cheap rent, and make the move. Even if you end up with another crappy job you’ll at least be in a better town and have more money in your pocket after you pay the rent. By the way, a recent list of cities with the cheapest rent still had Tucson in the number two spot.

Your Turn: Do you know other ways to save on rent, or do you have a story about what worked for you? Please share in the comments below…