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Renters’ Priorities Shift With Ability To Pay Rent Nearing Pre-Pandemic Levels

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, many renters have been able to hold their own in being able to pay their rent, in part because of recent improvements in the economy, but also because of government intervention.


The most recent National Multifamily Housing Council Rent Payment Tracker, a survey of 11.6 million units nationwide, found 80.4% of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by March 6. That is down from a year ago on the cusp of the pandemic, when tenants in 84.5% of units had paid. But the most recent figure is up from a month ago, when 79.2% of renters had paid.

NMHC President Doug Biddy cited rental assistance passed in the December stimulus bill, as well as the additional assistance in the upcoming stimulus, as important in keeping rents paid.

A separate survey by RENTCafé suggests rental payment, while still a challenge for many, isn't quite the pressing issue it was early in the pandemic. The company's February 2021 survey of about 10,000 apartment dwellers found that only 5% said they needed to move because they couldn't afford the rent any longer. 

That represents a significant shift compared with what respondents told RENTCafé in a similar survey early in the pandemic as unemployment was swelling. At that time, 16% said they needed to move because they couldn't afford the rent.

The top consideration for renters who are moving in early 2021 is finding a better deal, such as a better location for the same money, a similar location for less money or a better apartment for less money. That consideration was cited by 29% of the respondents. Only 8% of respondents said that in early 2020.

Almost as many (25%) of the 2021 respondents said that they wanted a change of scenery, which suggests that there isn't always much a landlord can do to keep a tenant in a particular unit. Less important reasons for moving in 2021 included simply that the lease is up (18%) or wanting to be closer to loved ones (10%).

Not very many respondents (8%) said they wanted to move so that they could live alone for health reasons. That is the same as in 2020. Virtually no respondents in 2021 said they were moving to live with their parents again, while 8% said that in 2020.

Some 90% of the 2021 respondents said they wanted traditional long-term rentals, and nearly half prefer to remain in the same city, showing that improving housing conditions — not making a drastic change — is now the goal of many renters.

The 2021 RENTCafé survey also found that the most important amenities for renters looking for new apartments are open-air spaces, such as patios and balconies, and more space in general.

Some 21% of 2021 respondents picked open-air amenities as their top concern in evaluating an apartment, while only slightly fewer (20%) said that more space overall was top of the list. Less important were the ability to pay rent and make maintenance requests online (17%) and a good internet connection (10%). More than a quarter of the 2021 respondents (28%) said they were looking for nothing different in particular in a new apartment.