The Most Expensive Cities in the World for Renters Are in the US

updated Jul 17, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Celeste Noche)

Everybody knows the rent is stupid high in San Francisco, New York City, and Boston — it’s one of those sad running jokes, an absurdity that’s nonetheless become an accepted fact of life at this point. But a new study by London real-estate startup Nested shows that America’s most notoriously expensive rental markets are now the priciest in the whole world.

Rent costs more per square foot in San Francisco, New York, and Boston than in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, or London itself, whose property market has been rocketing higher for years, fueled in part by international billionaires and oligarchs with an apparent taste for fish n’ chips.

The five American cities with the highest rent per square foot, at least among the 10 U.S. cities in the study, were San Francisco ($4.95 per square foot), New York ($4.75), Boston ($4.10), Washington D.C. ($3.33), and Seattle ($3.07).

Dense and wealthy Hong Kong was the priciest city for rent outside the U.S., at £3.08 (or $3.78) per square foot, followed by Dubai and Singapore. London, at £2.30 ($2.83) per square foot, was tied with Los Angeles, the sixth-most expensive city in the U.S.

(Image credit: Chloe Berk)

I’m no economist, but I would hazard a guess that this is largely due to the strength of the U.S. dollar in the past couple of years and the dramatic collapse of the British pound post-Brexit. Consider that £1,000 could have covered $1,680 in New York rent three years ago; now the same £1,000 would only get you $1,228.

The study also compared the income needed to pay rent for one person or for a family, with charmingly European assumptions about home size — namely that singles need at least 420 square feet to live comfortably, and that a family of four requires at least 797 square feet.

Families looking to rent such a modest-sized apartment in San Francisco would need to earn upwards of $160,000 to avoid spending more than the recommended (but increasingly laughable) 29% of their income on housing.

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Meanwhile, the same family could theoretically afford a suitable apartment in Houston (do they even make 800-square-foot apartments in Texas?) on a salary of $49,011. It would cost even less to rent that space in Barcelona, Vienna, or Berlin.

So if you’ve ever entertained dreams of taking your New York salary to a cheaper Midwestern city in an effort to stretch it out and maybe rent something larger and nicer than a public bathroom, you may have more options than you once thought—including some very cosmopolitan cities around the world—for as long as the exchange rate holds, anyway.