U.S. Renters Paid $4.5 Trillion in Rent in the 2010s

On Dec. 1, the nation’s renters didn’t just make their last rent payment of the year – their landlords also collected their last rent payment of what was a very lucrative decade. All-in-all, U.S. renters paid roughly $4.5 trillion in rent during the 2010s, capped off with $512 billion in 2019 alone.

The total amount of money spent on rent nationwide over the past 10 years is higher than the GDP of Germany (a shade less than $4 trillion in 2018), the world’s fourth-largest national economy. Total rent paid in 2019 alone is higher than the entire 2018 GDP of Thailand ($505 billion) and just short of Argentina’s ($518 billion).

The total amount of rent paid in 2019 was up 2.9% from 2018 ($497.9 billion). A bump in the overall number of U.S. renters in 2019 (to 43.6 million), after a slight decline in the previous year, and rent growth itself that has picked up slightly throughout the year both contributed to a higher overall rent bill this year than last.

As might be expected, different markets contributed differently to the overall national sum. The top two markets on the list for total rent paid in 2019, New York at $56.6 billion and Los Angeles at $39.2 billion, may not be particularly surprising – they are the nation’s two largest markets, and are both known for being pricey. But the list gets more interesting after the top two spots, with a number of markets showcasing their ability to punch over their weight and contribute much more to the overall total than their size alone might indicate, and vice versa.

San Francisco, for example, is the nation’s 11th-largest metro area by population, but its sky-high rents more than compensated for its relative lack of renters compared to larger markets. San Francisco renters paid $16.4 billion in rent in 2019, good for third place in the total rent rankings. High rents in San Diego ($10.4 billion in rent paid in 2019), San Jose ($6.6 billion) and Austin ($4.7 billion) also place those markets higher on the list than their size alone might indicate. Despite being the 17th, 34th and 35th-biggest markets by overall population, they rank 10th, 16th and 22nd on the rent paid rankings.

And there are several markets with relatively affordable rent prices that help make their total bill not nearly as daunting as one might expect based solely on their populations. Houston is the nation’s sixth-largest market by population, but comes in at number 9 in the rankings ($10.8 billion paid), right between the notably smaller but more-expensive markets of Boston ($11.3 billion) and San Diego. Among the more affordable metros analyzed, Pittsburgh ($2.5 billion in 2019) and Saint Louis ($3.1 billion) have the biggest discrepancies between their size rank and the total amount of money spent on rent this year. Whereas their population ranks them as the at 22nd and 18th-largest U.S. markets, respectively, their total amounts spent on rent come in as the 37th and 28th highest nationwide.

The areas that saw the largest gains in their total rent bill in 2019 are also largely those markets in which renters experienced the fastest growth in rents over the past year. Phoenix (total rent paid up 7.5% in 2019 from 2018), Las Vegas (+5.6%) and Charlotte (+5.5%) had the largest year-over-year increases in their total rent paid. And as of October, Phoenix, Vegas and Charlotte rank 1st 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in terms of yearly rental appreciation among the nation’s 35 largest markets.

Source: Zillow