Can the landlord raise my rent beyond a certain amount at the end of my lease?
The general answer to this question is YES. Unless you're in a rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment (or are eligible for a specific rent freeze) once the lease is up, the contract is up and it's time for renegotiation. Unfortunately, as long as the going rent is priced within market value there's probably someone waiting in line willing to pay more than you're currently playing. Note however that you are entitled to advanced notice that your rent is going to go up. It is 30 days if you've been there for a year or less, 60 days for more than a year, but less than 2, and 90 days if you've been there three years or more.
No doubt, rent increases suck. On the other hand, keep in mind that not all rent increases are the product of greedy capitalism gone awry. The current rate of inflation is 7% (check here for up to date statistics.). Other factors can affect the cost of running your building.
All of this doesn't mean that your rent will increase, but in general, you should expect that it will. This is also important to make sure that your rent matches up with the market value of the going rent of your apartment. For example, always think about whether you'll be willing to pay more for the apartment in a year.
Now you may wonder if there are ways to talk your landlord out of a rent increase. In negotiation, it never hurts to try, but avoid factoring your rights into the dialogue. If you think the rent increase is a violation of your rights, that's a totally different dialogue and requires legal consultation, but as mentioned, unless the apartment is rent stabilized or controlled (or you qualify for a specific rent freeze) odds are the landlord is within his or her rights to increase your rent.
That said, here is how I avoided a significant rent increase last year. We rented from a private landlord. He threw in all utilities and we immediately replaced all of the lightbulbs we could with LED lighting. We also used an eco-friendly heater and kept the apartment in excellent condition. We paid the rent on time and rarely complained unless there was an actual problem. We also rarely had guests (even though we had every right to) and followed all of the rules of the building. Needless to say, he did not want to lose us as a tenant, so he renewed our lease with a rent increase of only $50.00 a month, which was likely a loss to him.
But what if you don't get so lucky? Note that depending on the season, it's a good idea to plan any move about 6 weeks in advance, but that's an ideal. If you're apartment hunting within the parameters of market value, it shouldn't been be too hard to find a place, and it takes about 24-48 hours to get an application processed (*it can be more or less.) In addition, most apartments will be going on market about 30 days before the current lease expires, but remember, not all leases start on the first of the month, some start in the middle (and on other dates), so if you don't mind having to deal with paying rent 2 weeks in advance, the 6 week point may not be so bad.
LINK: CPI Inflation Calculator (Bureau of Labor & Statistics)
I am not a lawyer. I do not offer legal advice.
Please contact the appropriate legal professional if you are having problems that warrant professional consultation.
For additional information on rent increases for people who live in rent regulated housing, please follow this link.