Negotiating with your Landlord
Met Council on Housing


The purpose of this fact sheet is to give tenant and community activists an introduction to fundamental strategies of negotiating. The points made below are intended to convince you that negotiating is an action embarked upon neither idly, nor with unreasonable expectations, but rather with specific, realistic goals.

When Does It Take Place:

You don't have to be seated at a big, oak table in Geneva, Switzerland or the New York Hilton to be negotiating. Negotiating takes place whenever you are dealing with someone who has the power to make decisions on your issue. It could be at a public meeting in your community, in the corridors of City Hall, in the hallways outside Housing Court, or when delivering a petition. However, negotiating will be meaningful only when the target fears your power.

With Whom Do You Negotiate:

Always try to deal with the final authority directly. If you deal with a subordinate, it will become a one-way negotiation. A mere spokesperson for the other side has no power or authority to make concessions. Thus, the real decision-maker has time and distance as an advantage over you if you negotiate with a subordinate. It is interesting to note that from the management point of view in corporate/union negotiations, management never wants to put the final authority at the negotiating table.

Another major buffer and distraction used by corporate managers and bureaucrats is to put the issue "into committee." The longer the committee deliberates, the more steam your campaign loses. We've all seen our issues "dying in committee."

Gaining Advantage:

In addition to organizing and wielding coercive power over your target, there is advantage to be gained by stacking the negotiating setting in your favor:

  • Having it on your turf.
  • Having more people present than your target.
  • Chairing the meeting.
  • Controlling the agenda.

Few, Clear Issues:

The more issues you bring to the table, the more vulnerable you become. If you have 23 issues, there are bound to be some weak ones, and those are precisely the ones a skillful target will talk about in order to duck your strong issues. The hardest opponent to deal with is the one who has just a few, well-chosen issues.

Discuss Your Issues:

If a landlord is smart, he will put you on the defensive by raising the issue of people from your group who are "bad" tenants, for example, those who do not properly dispose of their garbage. Refuse to discuss the target's issues at a negotiating session set up to discuss your issues.

Prepare Your Arguments:

Prepare your case using a variety of arguments. Particularly effective are arguments convincing the opposition that it is in their best interest to change their position. Also effective is evidence that the underlying problem will not go away, and that the target is going to have to deal with it sooner or later. Know your priorities and what issues you want to spend the majority of your time arguing.

Select Your Negotiating Team:

A single spokesperson is often the best. A small committee with specific points to raise is also effective. Never allow open discussion by all members of your negotiating team. Differences of opinion are bound to surface within your own ranks. The opposition will use that to divide and conquer. Know who is supposed to say what when you enter a negotiating session, and stick to your plan.

Getting To Know The Opposition:

If you learn your target's idiosyncracies, you can tailor your presentation. For example, your landlord has other property in the community. You let him know that you know this. Mention that your group might have to organize his other buildings if you do not get what you want. Or perhaps your landlord is a member of a real estate board or is a recognized "civic leader" in his own community. If he does not deal with you in good faith, you can always bring your problem to where he has some interest in maintaining a "good guy" image. Whatever coersion you use, be prepared to have your bluff called and swing into action.

Anticipate Stock Responses:

There are certain stock responses that targets use with groups of organized people:

  • "We can't do that, it's illegal."
  • "It's too expensive."
  • "How do you know that's right?"

Visually Illustrate Your Points:

Graphs, photos, news clippings, participation by victims of your target can all add to your case by making your arguments more real, graphic, and visual. A classic example is bringing a dead rat to Housing Court as evidence.

Set The Timetable:

Always get a commitment on when you will see the results of the target's concession. "I'll fix the leaks in the roof as soon as I get some time" is not a victory.

Keep Good Records:

Get your agreement in writing. Keep good records. This will not only help get implementation of concessions, but will be useful to you in future dealings with the target, or his successor.

Know Your Next Step:

If you do not come out of the negotiating session with anything substantial, meet right away to decide the next step. How did the negotiating go? Where are the target's weaknesses? How can we improve our bargaining position? Usually, a negotiating session that yields some concessions is a victory, especially if the concessions are your priority issues. If this is the case, meet to reset your priorities so that the target will become aware of your new demands while your power is still fresh in the target's mind.

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