Big landlords just 28% of California’s rental market  

“Numerology” tries to find reality within various measurements of economic and real estate trends.

Buzz: Big apartment complexes house only a little more than one-fourth of all California renters.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet eyeballed 2022 Census Bureau data on what kind of housing is home to renter households across the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Fuzzy math: Are giant landlords given too much credit – or blame – for what goes on in the rental market?


The largest California rental complexes, those with 20 or more units, were home to 1.65 million households in 2022. That was No. 1 among the states and 15% of the 11.4 million big-complex tenants nationwide. Next was New York at 1.57 million and Texas at 1.1 million.

Yet these large complexes held just 28% of the Golden State’s 6 million renting households. Yes, it’s the eighth-largest share among the states, and it’s slightly above the nation’s 25% average.

But big complexes in California hold nowhere near the slice of renters compared with states where giant landlords dominate. In the District of Columbia, big complexes hold 55% of all renters, followed by Minnesota at 45% and New York and North Dakota at 44%.

The lows were found in Mississippi at 9%, then Arkansas and Alaska at 10%.


So where do the roughly three-quarters of California renters reside if not in big apartment complexes?

Mid-sized: The most popular properties with two to 19 units. They’re home to 2.1 million households, No. 1 in the nation and 12% of 17.8 million such tenants in the US. Next was Texas and New York at 1.5 million.

And while these mid-sized properties hold 36% of Golden State renters – the top niche – these modest rental sites are far more popular elsewhere. California’s share ranks 14th-lowest and runs below the 39% national average.

Top spots for 2-to-19-unit properties? Massachusetts at 58% of all rentals, then Rhode Island at 57%, and Vermont at 55%. Lows? Hawaii at 28%, then Minnesota at 29% and North Dakota and Arizona at 31%.

Single-family: California’s renter households in one-unit properties are also a larger group than those living in the big complexes.

These one-unit residences – detached and attached – are home to 2 million California renter households, No. 1 among the states and 15% of 14.2 million in the US. Next was Texas at 1.3 million, and Florida at 897,000.

This equals 34% of Golden State renters, the No. 29 share and above the 31% national average.

Top shares for single-unit rentals were found in Oklahoma at 48%, then Hawaii and Mississippi at 45%. Lows were in DC at 11%, then New York at 12% and Massachusetts at 14%.

Others: And don’t forget rental options that are primarily mobile homes, but also RVs and boats.

California has 128,500 households in this category, No. 4 among the states and 7% of 1.8 million in the US. The top 3 were found in Texas at 171,000, Florida at 160,000 and North Carolina at 158,500.

This “other” group represents 2% of Golden State renters, the 12th-lowest share among the states and half the 4% rate nationally.

Top shares? South Carolina at 16%, then West Virginia at 13%, and New Mexico and Mississippi at 12%. Lows? DC and Rhode Island have almost none.

Bottom line

Owners of larger apartment complexes, typically big institutional investors, control a small and perhaps influential slice of the rental market.

But remember, these landlords tend to cater to higher-income renters. These pricing trends often only explain what well-heeled renters are willing to pay.

More modest-sized properties are primarily owned by smaller investors who don’t necessarily manage their properties in similar manners. These landlords, with their lesser-paid renters, tend to value tenant retention over income maximization. So their rents are known to increase relatively gradually.

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

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