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California Ranks Worst In Personal Space, But San Francisco Isn’t As Bad As You'd Think


Californian apartment dwellers are packed in like sardines, ranking as one of the worst states nationwide in terms of available space per renter, according to a recent report from RentCafé.

The report calculated apartment space per renter by analyzing floor plan data from 254 cities across the United States alongside the average number of renters living in a household, using information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Cities in California consistently ranked the highest in terms of least personal space per renter, and with the exceptions of Bakersfield and Roseville, all cities in California offered less than 500 SF per renter. The national average is 540 SF of personal space. 

For the Bay Area, San Francisco’s average of personal space ranked better than expected in California, but still came close to the bottom in terms of the national average, with the average apartment size calculated at 700 SF with 432 SF of space per person and an average of 1.63 renters per unit.

Fremont clocked in at 320 SF of personal space per renter, making it the third-worst city in California. Apartment units there have 2.61 residents on average, though the average apartment size is larger than San Francisco, 835 SF.

It is no wonder renters in California are cramped for space; despite massive rental rate spikes in other parts of the country, California is still one of the costliest states in terms of average monthly rent and has the largest estimated population in the country, according to, leading to more situations where people need to seek out roommates in order to survive.

The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Fremont, for example, is $2,893, a 13% increase over 2021, according to data from Zumper. This is in comparison to Independence, Missouri, which RentCafé ranks as the most generous city in terms of available space, with the average person getting 731 SF of personal space and paying $895 median rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

Doug Ressler, manager, business intelligence, at Yardi Matrix, believes remote work is contributing to shrinking personal space, as it has led to more situations where renters are losing out on square footage to roommates not going into the office, but that developers are also adapting to increased remote work trends by transforming spaces in apartments into offices. That has also reduced storage room in units and, in turn, led to a boom in demand for self-storage facilities.

“I may amenitize an apartment by taking out a standard closet and putting in a work-from-home closet, but at the same time, that puts on the burden on ‘Where do I store things?’ and we’ve seen an increase in self-storage, especially in those areas where we see a little bit of correlation between smaller square footage and the need to store things in,” Ressler said. 

Ressler also believes demographic trends are playing a big role, as younger renters from Generation Z are more willing to sacrifice personal space in an apartment to be located in dense downtown markets.

“The demographics want different things. The Z types, which are ages 17 through 23, really want to be in the urban cores. They like the social environments, the restaurant scenes, the bars, etc.,” he said. “The amenitizations are key, working from home is key, and the younger Z-types are willing to be compatible with not keeping all their things in a house or a garage or whatever.”