Edited questions from Apartment Life, Sara Gebhardt's online discussion about rental issues.
QWashington, D.C.: Are rents in large apartment buildings negotiable at all? When I visit a place, they seem to give me a take-it-or- leave-it price. Are the prices really that firm, and if not, how much do you think they can be bargained down?
ALike so many other things in life and in apartment life, the answer often depends on context. Some landlords are willing to negotiate, and others aren't. Sometimes private ("small") landlords who own one or a few properties will be willing to negotiate, while landlords of big buildings owned by large companies strictly follow company policy.
Of course, you never know until you ask. If you really like a place and the landlord tells you to "take it or leave it," suggest other concessions such as free parking, a free gym membership, or a specific apartment. As far as how much landlords who negotiate will go down, I can't say. But do your research so you know what market value is before you try to low-ball a price, because a landlord may not take your negotiating seriously if you do that.
Alexandria, Va.: How common is it for an apartment complex to not offer lease renewals to tenants but instead offer only the month-to-month option after their lease expires? To be honest, this seems like an inefficient practice, because month-to-month is very expensive, and it doesn't seem fair to longtime tenants.
This is fairly common these days. But usually month-to-month doesn't mean it will be more expensive; it just means you have the possibility of more frequent rent increases and of your lease being terminated with a month's notice (this varies by jurisdiction). Presumably, longtime tenants have been on the month-to-month system for a long time, or they have worked out longer lease terms with their landlords. If you look at it another way, a month-to-month lease term will ensure that if you have any reason to leave within short notice, you can get out of your lease that much more quickly.
Washington, D.C.: Is it legal to smoke in the hallways -- or rather, stairwells -- of apartment buildings? I've repeatedly seen (and smelled) stale cigarette butts on the stairs, and yesterday as I was walking up four flights to my apartment, I passed a tenant from the third floor hanging out in the stairwell, puffing away. As a nonsmoker, I find this disgusting.
I'm not sure about "legal," but most buildings generally do not allow smoking in common areas, including stairwells and hallways. Some landlords designate entire buildings as nonsmoking. Consult your landlord for help about getting the word out that smoking should be confined to individual units.
Sara Gebhardt's Apartment Life column appears every other week in this section, and her Web chat appears monthly on www.washingtonpost.com.