Best Places for Renters

Rental markets can fluctuate wildly by geography. Since 43% of renters are under 30 years old, we wanted to help 20-somethings find the best metropolitan areas for renters. We looked for metropolitans with affordable rentals and high percentages of renters, which speaks to the size and quality of the rental market.

NerdWallet ranked U.S. cities according to the following questions:

  1. Is there a sizable rental market? We looked at the percentage of total households that have renters to gauge the quality and size of the rental market.
  2. Is renting affordable for the average individual? We looked at the percentage of the monthly median income needed to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

For more information, check out our Cost of Living Calculator and City Life tool.

Best Places for Renters

1. Fargo, N.D.
Fargo is North Dakota's largest city, sitting on the western bank of the Red River of the North. A full 46% of households in the area rent, displaying a thriving rental market. Fargo scored well on affordability -- the median rent of a one-bedroom apartment is a mere 8% of the monthly median income. The area's second-largest employer is North Dakota State University, located in Fargo. The Fargo Human Relations Commission launched a Know Your Rights Initiative in 2006 to give the community access to and information about their rights and responsibilities as tenants and landlords.

2. Grand Forks, N.D.
Grand Forks ranks second on our list for its thriving rental market and affordability. It's North Dakota's third-largest city and a mere 80 miles away from Fargo. Forty-five percent of the area's households rent, and the median rent of a one-bedroom apartment is only 9% of the monthly median income. The city is home to Grand Forks Air Base and the University of North Dakota, the oldest and largest university in the state.

3. Ames, Iowa
Ames is located in Central Iowa, 30 miles north of Des Moines, and is home to the Iowa State University of Science and Technology, the largest employer in the city. There is plenty of affordable rental housing -- 45% of the area's households rent, and the median rent of a one-bedroom apartment is 9% of the median monthly income.

4. Corvallis, Ore.
Corvallis is situated in the Willamette Valley in western Oregon, around 85 miles south of Portland. Oregon State University is just outside downtown Corvallis. The Corvallis area's rental market is great for OSU students, as rent is very affordable -- the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment costs only $578, which is only 8% of the median monthly income.

5. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C./Va.
The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is the largest on our list. A whopping 57% of all households in this region rent. While the median monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment, at $1,191, is higher than that of all other metropolitan areas on our list, it's only 13% of the median monthly income. Because Washington has such a high concentration of renters, the District of Columbia government has an office dedicated specifically to tenant rights and advocacy. In addition, tenants can find information and educational resources from the D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition.

6. Lawrence, Kan.
The Lawrence metropolitan area encompasses all of Douglas County and is centered on the city, which is situated on the banks of the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers. Lawrence is home to the Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas, Lawrence's largest employer. Forty-eight percent of Lawrence's households are renters, and the median monthly rent is only $665 for a one-bedroom apartment, a mere 11% of the median monthly income. The University of Kansas provides information on Consumer and Tenant Affairs to educate and aid student renters on landlord/tenant rights.

7. Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, Va.
The Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford metropolitan area is located in the New River Valley region of the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia. The area is home to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University -- also known as Virginia Tech -- located in Blacksburg, and Radford University, located in Radford. Virginia Tech's Office of Student Affairs focuses on protecting students under tenancy laws, providing resources for renters such as information about the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act. The Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford area has one of the highest percentages of renters -- at 45% -- and a fairly affordable median monthly rent of $645 for a one-bedroom apartment, which is 11% of the median monthly income.

8. Columbia, Mo.
The fifth-largest city in Missouri, Columbia is the center of the Columbia metropolitan area. The University of Missouri is located in Columbia and is the largest employer. Columbia has some of the most affordable apartments in our list, with the monthly median rent of a one-bedroom apartment of $546. Because 41% of households rent, Columbia's city government has provided resources for tenants and landlords.

9. Lincoln, Neb.
Lincoln is the capital and second-largest city in Nebraska and home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which is the third-largest employer in the city, after the State of Nebraska and Lincoln Public Schools. Forty-one percent of the households in Lincoln are renters, and one-bedroom apartments cost only 9% of the median monthly income. Nebraska's RentWise program aims to help tenants learn about tenant rights and responsibilities in Lincoln's large rental housing market.

10. Bloomington-Normal, Ill.
The Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area is located in central Illinois, 70 miles northeast of Springfield. Thirty-two percent of Bloomington-Normal households rent, and rental housing is very affordable. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is only $552, which is 7% of the median monthly income. The largest employers are State Farm Insurance, which is headquartered in Bloomington, and Illinois State University, located in Normal. Illinois State University provides legal help for students' tenant rights and also has an Off-Campus Student Association that provides information and education for student renters.

Here's a look at our top 20.

Rank Metropolitan Percentage of Renter Households Monthly Median Family Income 1-Bedroom Average Monthly Rent Overall Score
1 Fargo, N.D. 46% $6,150 $495 80.3
2 Grand Forks, N.D. 45% $5,642 $512 76.3
3 Ames, Iowa 45% $6,242 $578 75.4
4 Corvallis, Ore. 43% $6,733 $578 75.3
5 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C./Va. 57% $8,942 $1,191 73.4
6 Lawrence, Kan. 48% $5,900 $664 71.8
7 Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, Va. 46% $5,733 $645 69.8
8 Columbia, Mo. 41% $5,442 $546 69.5
9 Lincoln, Neb. 38% $5,658 $525 69.2
10 Bloomington-Normal, Ill. 32% $7,233 $552 69
11 Manhattan, Kan. 49% $5,092 $631 68.6
12 Lawton, Okla. 42% $4,567 $489 68.4
13 Greenville, N.C. 44% $4,800 $545 68.2
14 Lafayette, Ind. 44% $5,225 $594 68
15 Champaign-Urbana, Ill. 42% $6,000 $645 67.9
16 Auburn-Opelika, Ala. 37% $5,250 $490 67.8
17 Bloomington, Ind. 45% $5,092 $598 67.8
18 Jefferson City, Mo. 31% $5,675 $440 67.7
19 Lexington-Fayette, Ky. 39% $5,317 $535 67.6
20 La Crosse, Wis. 35% $5,767 $520 66.9

Methodology
We scored rental markets with the following metrics:

  1. Is there a sizable rental market? Metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of households that rent scored higher.
  2. Are rentals affordable? Metropolitans with the lowest percentage of monthly income needed to rent a one-bedroom apartment scored higher.

We included the 567 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. using data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.


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