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California renters pay 43% more than US, but the gap’s shrinking

California renters pay 43% more than US, but the gap’s shrinking

”Survey says” looks at various rankings and scorecards judging geographic locations while noting these grades are best seen as a mix of artful interpretation and data.

Buzz: The gap between what California tenants pay and nationwide rents narrowed during the pandemic era.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet looked at ApartmentList’s stats on what new tenants pay in order to gauge how much rents have risen in the pandemic era. It compared averages for California and the nation for July through September to similar summer months in 2019 using a rental measurement tracking all unit sizes.

Topline

California rents ran $1,958 a month this summer, the second highest in the nation behind Hawaii. That was up 14% since July-through-September 2019.

Meanwhile, the typical US tenant only paid $1,369, but that was up 21% in the same period.

Those moves translate to California tenants paying 43% more vs. the national norm – a premium that was 52% four years ago.

Still, that means it costs $589 a month more – almost $6,000 a year – to be a renter in the Golden State.

Details

Rents gyrated higher nationwide once coronavirus hit the housing market early in 2020. Some renters sought larger living spaces. Others, with remote work options, chose to move away from bigger cities. That onslaught of demand in turn boosted rents. But in 2023, with the pandemic a smaller health and economic issue, housing needs evolved again and rental demand has since slipped in many markets.

Still, rents remain above pre-pandemic levels in much of the nation. The biggest gains in the pandemic era were found in states with noteworthy population inflows …

New Mexico: $1,296 a month average rents this summer (No. 24 among the states) are up 45% in four years.

Delaware: $1,617 (No. 12) – up 39% in four years.

New Hampshire: $1,679 (No. 9) – up 36% in four years.

Florida: $1,684 (No. 8) – up 34% in four years.

Mississippi: $1,102 (No. 35) – up 33% in four years.

Caveat

Let’s note that California renters by no means have had a universal experience since the coronavirus upended the economy.

For example, 38 California cities out of 70 tracked by ApartmentList had four-year rent gains that exceeded the nation’s 21% increase. The three largest jumps since 2019 were found in Carlsbad at $3,187 a month up 44%. Escondido jumped to $2,220, up 41%, and Chino rose to $2,403,  up 41%. All benefitted from exits out of big Southern California cities.

Meanwhile, this rent metric shows price drops in eight California cities since 2019. The three largest declines were in the Bay Area – Oakland ($1,571, off 19%), San Francisco ($2,203, off 16%) and Mountain View ($2,504, off  8%).

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Bottom line

The state’s slowly slipping population and its modest homebuilding efforts may have helped to cool rent inflation. Also, various government-imposed rent caps have limited what landlords can charge. Certain other pricing tethers were added during the pandemic.

Still, California’s a pricey place to rent. Just peek at the 324 big US counties tracked by ApartmentList.

California had seven of the 10 costliest counties this summer: Orange was No. 2 at $2,638, followed by Santa Clara, at No. 3 at $2,565, San Mateo, No. 5 at $2,469, Napa, No. 6 at $2,463, Ventura, No. 7 at $2,446, San Diego, No. 8 at $2,419, and Santa Barbara, No. 9 at $2,383.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at jlansner@scng.com