scorecard3 city dwellers who scored unreal COVID-19 deals share how they're handling the dramatic increases in rent
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3 city dwellers who scored unreal COVID-19 deals share how they're handling the dramatic increases in rent

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3 city dwellers who scored unreal COVID-19 deals share how they're handling the dramatic increases in rent
LifeThelife3 min read
From left to right: Nicolas Paredes, Bethany Wiseman, and Billy Binion.    Courtesy of Billy Binion; Bethany Wiseman; Nicolas Paredes
  • The era of COVID-19 rental deals is over, and city dwellers now need to make tough calls.
  • One resident decided to move from LA to Texas for cheaper rent.

In summer 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out and while the country was still adjusting to life in a pandemic, Billy Binion moved to Los Angeles, having scored a dream apartment: a renovated studio with an in-unit washer and dryer, free parking, a balcony, and a large bathroom. He signed a 13-month lease at $1,500 a month and settled into his new neighborhood, where, like in so many other big cities, landlords were offering lower rent and perks like several months free or upgraded appliances to entice renters to pick a city over the suburbs and space.

This wave of rental deals didn't last long — by mid-2021, rents in cities had started to rise to pre-pandemic levels or higher, and those who'd snagged a low-cost living situation found themselves forced to pay significantly higher prices, move apartments or cities, or downgrade to less-than-ideal quarters.

Three city dwellers shared with Insider how rent increases affected their lives.

Forced to move to another city

When Binion's 13-month lease ended, the rent for his apartment was rising out of his price range, so he started looking for new apartments — but found himself suddenly priced out of living in Los Angeles. He raised his maximum rent to $1,800 in his search, he said, but found only run-down apartments.

"I'm past the stage of my life where I want to find roommates on a Facebook group," Binion, 30, added.

After leaving Los Angeles, Binion bounced around the country before settling on Texas, where he's paying $1,700 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. The leasing agent who helped him told him the unit was $1,300 a month just a few months prior, Binion said.

"I didn't even know that was possible," he said. "I have also had multiple people — from leasing agents to just random folks I've met — who have expressed chagrin at the fact that I came from California. There's a widespread sentiment that people like me are the reason rents are skyrocketing."

In Binion's search, he said, there seemed to be no room for negotiation.

"I had leasing agents tell me point-blank that they don't need my business because they will 100% fill the apartment with or without me," he said. "So you can take what they offer or try someplace else."

Getting lucky with a new lease

Bethany Wiseman, 23, and her partner signed a 12-month lease on an apartment in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, in spring 2021. The apartment had in-unit laundry, a balcony, a dishwasher, and a parking spot. Their rent was only $1,890, which she said was hundreds of dollars cheaper than an apartment with those amenities usually was in the area.

When it came time to renew the lease, Wiseman said she was worried, having seen what market rates had risen to.

"We didn't want to bring it up with the landlord," Wiseman said. "You don't go around being like, 'Oh, are you going to raise my rent?' And then they could be like, 'Oh, I forgot. Yes, I am.'"

In the end, Wiseman said she got lucky: Her landlord said the rent would stay the same and the lease would continue on a month-to-month basis with the stipulation of 30 days' notice before vacating — not that moving is on Wiseman's mind.

"We're going to try to ride this out as long as we can," she said.

Settling for a decent deal

Nicolas Paredes, 26, works in residential real estate in New York City. When he was looking for an apartment to move into with his boyfriend in 2021, they found a spot in uptown Manhattan with views of Central Park.

"I never thought I'd have an apartment that amazing," Paredes said.

The couple signed a 15-month lease with the first three months free on an apartment that cost $1,000 less than it did before the pandemic. When it came time to renew, the offer was much less enticing: There would be no free months, and the rent increase would be $550 monthly.

"We were like, 'At least it wasn't a $1,000 increase,'" he said. "I ended up negotiating another month free and a longer lease term."

For other renters looking to negotiate with landlords, Paredes' advice is to be nice but firm. Tell your landlord how much you appreciate your space, "but X is the most you are willing to pay," he said.

"If you are willing to walk away, this is the best possible time to negotiate," he added.

Even with the increase in rent, Paredes said their rent was lower than people who are just now moving into the building. He's keeping an eye on the New York real-estate market as more people move into the city.

"It's, like, sink or swim in this city all the time," he said. "That's the magical part and the worst part, too."