How can you save as a renter? (© fStop/SuperStock)

© fStop/SuperStock

If you're renting, you probably know that the market is pretty tight right now. Fewer properties are available, and some particularly tough markets have seen a spate of abuses by unscrupulous landlords and brokers. But you can still save on rent and other monthly housing expenses by negotiating with your landlord and implementing some common-sense cost-saving tactics.

In this installment of "Real Estate on the Cheap," we'll focus on saving as a renter, then look at whether the end of the space-shuttle program will affect the housing market in sunny Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Have a good reason for a discount
There are kindhearted landlords out there, but renting is a business, so don't expect a break on rent just because you ask.

"I would advise tenants not to give sob stories and tell us how we can help them," says Ryan Pyle, a Toledo, Ohio, landlord. "They need to offer some sort of value in return for the discount."

Here are four reasons a landlord might consider giving you a discount:

1. The unit is priced higher than comparable ones in the area.
In July's renting-advice column, Karen Aho wrote that a tenant should become familiar with the landlord's competition using sites such as Craigslist, HotPads and Cazoodle. Looking at comparable places will give you an idea whether your unit is priced correctly.

Here's another site you can use: Rentometer.com. Input the apartment rent, address and size, and Rentometer will tell you where it falls in the range of apartment prices in the immediate area. ApartmentRatings.com also has a "What the Neighbors Pay" tool, which will show you the average reported rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments by metropolitan statistical area since 2000.

2. I'm an excellent tenant and will always pay rent on time.
If you have near-perfect credit and a spotless rental history, don't be afraid to brag about it. Landlords have more options than ever when selecting tenants, and a tenant with good credit will stand out from the crowd.

Many landlords depend on rent to pay the monthly mortgage or their own bills, so on-time rent payment is important. If your landlord is set up for it, you can take things a step further and have the rent automatically deducted from your bank account each month. Jim Olenbush, an Austin, Texas, landlord, says he gives a 5% rate reduction for tenants who use automatic monthly transfers to pay their rent.

You can also ask your landlord whether signing a longer lease could get you a discount. It might be worth something for your landlord to know he'll have an occupied unit that much longer.

3. I can pay several months' rent upfront.
Pyle says cash is king when it comes to scoring a deal on a rental. He recently gave a 7% discount to a tenant who paid four months' rent in advance.

"In one instance, a tenant received a large income-tax refund, and he offered to pay a full year's rent in advance," he says.

That tenant saved 11% on the entire year's rent. 

"That's a pretty attractive return for him," Pyle says. "I did it because I wanted to buy another property and needed a down payment. So it was a win-win situation."

Olenbush says he offers a free month if a tenant pays for a year in advance.

"We have had several cases of tenants paying for a year's worth of rent upfront for various reasons," Olenbush says. "One was in foreclosure and did not qualify for the lease, so he paid 12 months upfront. Other times, they have paid in advance with no reason given or as a negotiating tactic to secure a lower rental rate."

This can be a great way to save money in the long run. Plus, you won't have to worry about remembering to pay your rent each month. But Pyle does have a few words of warning: "Before handing over several months' rent, tenants should be sure that the landlord is current with his mortgage and not about to be in foreclosure. They might ask to see his most recent mortgage statement."