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Skyrocketing Rents Deliver 57% Profit Growth To Large Apartment Owners


A new analysis of the nation's top apartment owners shows they earned massive profits off of rent increases last year. 

The top 10 publicly traded apartment companies saw their net incomes rise 57% to nearly $5B, according to a report released Tuesday from government watchdog Accountable.US. 

Those profits in many cases far exceeded the losses incurred at the start of the pandemic, with annual net income surging beyond 2019 levels. They also came as the nation saw fewer homes for sale and historically low vacancy rates. 

"It’s obvious the punishing rental prices on our most vulnerable populations are driven by corporate greed," Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig said. "Big apartment companies have joined the long list of industries using inflation as cover to charge working families far beyond any new cost of doing business."

Accountable.US argues that the profits fly in the face of apartment executives' professed concerns at the outset of the pandemic, when they argued eviction moratoriums would lose them billions.

Rents increased by more than 17% last year, a record pace driven in part by apartment occupancies climbing about 250 basis points above the historical average to 97.5%, according to RealPage.

Those profits and rent increases also occur despite inflation essentially giving workers a 2.4% pay cut in 2021, according to the Department of Labor, meaning renters are feeling their wallets tighten.

Accountable.US decried the rent increases and warned that some experts predict eviction filings in cities with the highest rent increases could quickly reach double the pre-pandemic average, forcing more Americans to lose their homes.

Tennessee-based Mid-America Apartment Communities, the largest publicly traded apartment owner in the country, saw its net income double to $530M in 2021, with revenue growth far above operating expense growth among its owned properties, according to its end-of-year filings.

Some executives have been explicit about yoking profits to inflation. In Starwood Property Trust's fourth-quarter 2021 earnings call, CEO Barry Sternlicht said inflation could help boost the value of a Florida multifamily portfolio Starwood owns by hundreds of millions of dollars, calling the portfolio “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Sternlicht also said it was "the strongest real estate market I've seen in 30 years, 35 years if you count my time before Starwood," naming multifamily and industrial as the strongest asset classes on the February call.

The era of high rents and high profits isn't over. Shelter costs were up 5% in March 2022 year-over-year, which is the biggest increase the market has seen since May 1991, according to Politico.

The report also notes that rents are a lagging indicator in federal inflation data, meaning the increases seen last year haven't fully been incorporated into the most recent numbers, keeping core inflation high for months longer at least.

CORRECTION, JUNE 15, 9:30 A.M. ET: A previous version of this story mischaracterized a quote from Starwood CEO Barry Sternlict on a recent earnings call.