Renters feel trapped amid higher costs, stiff competition


South Florida one of least affordable rental markets in country

By Paul Owers | Sun Sentinel


Rent takes a bigger chunk of your paycheck in South Florida than almost anywhere in the nation, and the burden is getting heavier.


Renters here, on average, spend 44 percent of their incomes for a place to live, far more than the national average of 30 percent, according to new data from, a home listing service.


South Florida's rent burden ranks third-highest in the country, on par with San Francisco, Zillow found. Only Los Angeles, where 48 percent of income goes to rent, and Sarasota (47 percent) rank higher.


Although rents have risen across the country, their bite in South Florida is growing more quickly. Ten years ago, renters here paid 34 percent of their income for rent, closer to the national average of 26 percent, according to Zillow, which derives its data from rental listings and sales of rental homes.

The rental burden in South Florida has climbed 29 percent since then, compared with 15 percent nationally.

"The renter feels trapped," said Ken Johnson, a real estate economist and associate dean at Florida Atlantic University. "They don't have a lot of choices, and they can't easily get out to become a homeowner."

Tina Honey, 48, is one of them.

Last November, Honey moved to an apartment in Delray Beach, renting a three-bedroom unit for $1,861 a month. When she received her renewal notice recently, it included a $112-a-month increase.

Honey wants to find another place by the end of September, when she has to give her landlord two months' notice. But so far she hasn't seen a comparable, cheaper apartment in her school district, where her 16-year-old son attends Spanish River High School.

"I just think the rentals down here are ridiculous," said Honey, a project manager for Office Depot who grew up in Detroit. "There's no rent control, so they can charge whatever they want. That's crazy."

Frank Medina, 55, moved out of his one-bedroom Wilton Manors apartment complex rather than pay an extra $300 a month that would have increased the rent to $1,900.

Medina now rents a two-bedroom duplex in Oakland Park for $1,200. He likes the setup but wishes he could afford to live closer to his job as a receptionist and administrative assistant for the Genovese Joblove & Battista law firm in downtown Fort Lauderdale. He said most of the new apartments cater to people making at least $50,000 a year. The shimmering new buildings have turned into "revolving-door rentals," he said.

"They don't care if you stay or not," Medina said. "There's no rent control here, so you're at their mercy. It's madness. Complete madness."

In Broward County, the median rent has increased to $1,378 from $1,243 three years ago. But pay has not kept up. The county's $61,800 median household income is the same as it was in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The situation is the same in Palm Beach County. The median rent has increased to $1,364 from $1,173 three years ago, but the county's $63,300 median household income is unchanged from 2011.

Abby Blake is caught in the trap. She has struggled to find somewhere for less than $1,000 a month, the amount she can afford after her roommate decided to move out of their two-bedroom rental condominium west of Boca Raton. Blake can't swing the $1,100 rent alone and needs to find a place before her lease expires Sept. 30.

If she doesn't find another roommate, the 25-year-old publicist may have to get a part-time job or ask her family for help.

"It's starting to freak me out a little bit," she said.

Tracy Anton, a longtime renter in Hollywood, moved to a smaller apartment in her same complex because she couldn't afford a $100 rent increase.

Anton, who once had a 30-year career in broadcast advertising, is now a senior citizen who lives on a fixed income that doesn't come close to keeping pace with rising rents and assorted fees.

To make ends meet, she sells items on eBay. She recently sold part of her porcelain cat collection. Before that, she parted with cutlery, clothes and luggage.

"The stress level is always high," Anton said. "These days, the renter is always waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Buying is not much of an alternative in South Florida's improving housing market.

Since 2011, when the market hit bottom, the median home price in Palm Beach County has climbed more than 30 percent, compared with 18 percent nationally, according to the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.

The median home price in Broward County has climbed nearly 50 percent.

And many of the homes for sale are beyond the reach of first-time buyers. Less than a third of single-family homes listed in Broward County are priced at $250,000 or below, the price that Realtors consider an entry-level home. In Palm Beach County, it's less than a fourth.

"It's become a very thin market in that price range," said Diane Paez, a real estate agent who sells in both counties. "Buyers just have to kind of hang out and hope something changes."