California rents, per square foot, rank 5th-highest in US – Orange County Register

“How expensive?” tracks measurements of California’s totally unaffordable housing market.

The pain: California apartment dwellers not only face sky-high rents, they don’t get much space for the dollars they pay to landlords.

The source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed a RentCafe study of average rents and apartment sizes by state as of March 2024, tracking what kind of bang for the buck California tenants get.

The pinch

California rents in early 2024 equaled $2.96 per square foot, the fifth-highest expense among the states and 55% above the $1.91 per square foot charged nationally.

And where is this cost yardstick higher? Washington, D.C., is tops at $3.20 per square foot, New York is at $3.18, Massachusetts is at $3.06, and Hawaii is at $2.98.

Now, if you’re seeking a space bargain, North Dakota is the spot by this math at $1.08 per square foot. Next is Oklahoma at $1.17, Arkansas at $1.19, South Dakota at $1.23, and Mississippi at $1.26.

Oh, California’s big economic rivals? Texas was 29th highest at $1.64 and Florida was No. 19 at $2.

Pressure points

How did we get to this cost absurdity? Well, it’s a painful mix of California’s tiny units at big prices.

Let’s start with what space a renter gets.

California’s average apartment size was the 11th-smallest nationally at 851 square feet, which is 5% below the 899 square feet for the U.S.

The nation’s smallest apartments were found in Alaska at 703 square feet, then D.C. at 747, Vermont at 813, and New Mexico at 828. Texas was the 19th smallest at 880.

The biggest rentals were in Georgia at 1,016, Mississippi at 1,014, South Carolina at 998, West Virginia at 989, Alabama at 984 – and Florida at 970.

Next up: What the landlords are charging.

California rents ranked fourth-highest in the U.S. at $2,521 a month. That’s 47% above the nation’s $1,713 average.

Other pricier places to rent were Massachusetts at $2,714, New York at $2,673 and Hawaii at $2,522. Florida was No. 9 at $1,939. Texas was No. 31 at $1,441.

Renting’s cheapest spots were found in Oklahoma at $1,001, North Dakota at $1,048, Arkansas at $1,067, South Dakota at $1,106 and Wyoming at $1,120.

Bottom line

California is tough enough for the typical renter’s wallet, even before measuring the cost against paychecks.

California monthly rents compared with per-capita income equals 38% of pay. That’s the third-biggest affordability bite among the states. Only Hawaii at 46% and New York at 40% were worse.

And where’s the smallest shares of income paid by renters? That’s North Dakota and Wyoming at 17%, and South Dakota at 19%.

By the way, this rent pain in Texas ranked No. 35 at 26%, but Florida costs were No. 8 at 34%.

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

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