While there was widespread speculation of plummeting rents in urban areas during the pandemic, Santa Monica remains an expensive city to rent in.

This is also true for new market rate leases on controlled units, which barely dipped over the last year, according to data from the Rent Control Board. Rent controlled units represent over half of the City’s total rental stock and under Santa Monica’s Rent Control laws, units reset to market rate when a tenant vacates an apartment.

In 2020 median initial rents for newly leased controlled units fell by 2.8 percent for studios and by 1.5 percent for two bedroom units, while they were up by 1 percent for one bedroom units.

“So while we have gone down from 2019, you’re still seeing very high, record high rents which will likely continue as pandemic conditions get better and the economy gets back on track,” said Morena Zelaya, information analyst for the Rent Control Board.

Since vacancy decontrol began in 1999, median initial rental rates on rent controlled apartments have risen almost every year with the exception of a small decrease following the 2008 recession. Even with the pandemic related drop, all newly leased units are at or higher than initial rent rates set in 2018.

The median initial rent rates for controlled units in 2020 were $1,895 for a studio, $2,475 for a one bedroom, $3,200 for a two bedroom and $4,600 for a three or more bedroom unit.

“The market, even with those dips, continues to only cater to the very wealthy,” said Zelaya. “No household earning the area median income for Los Angeles which is $77,300 could afford even a market rate studio in Santa Monica.”

While rent controlled units held high values, data from online rental site Apartment List suggested that rents for market rate units were more significantly impacted.

By examining trends from private listing sites, Apartment List estimated that rents in Santa Monica have dropped by as much as 14 percent compared to March year. Apartment List calculated median market rate rents at $1,889 for a one bedroom and $2,376 for a two bedroom apartment.

This data is extrapolated from online listings and likely less precise than that of the Rent Control Board, which came directly from signed leases. Still, it highlights a disparity in how the economic crisis of Covid-19 impacted rates for controlled and uncontrolled housing.

Data across the board shows that Santa Monica remains an expensive place to live. Apartment List reported that Santa Monica had the third highest median rent rates of the 10 largest cities in the Los Angeles metro area. It also indicates that the market was rebounding as rents in Santa Monica, and generally the rest of Los Angeles, have been trending upwards for the past two months.

Clara@smdp.com