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Measuring the stress in the rental industry

Census data show a drop, a big drop, then some recovery for rental space

The pandemic has tormented many sectors of the economy. The sector we highlight today is rental companies, whose income is captured in the Quarterly Services Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.

This survey covers only a sample of the rental sector: businesses that employ workers but not, for example, individual landlords. Also, the space being rented may be apartments, residential houses, or commercial real estate. But these data can still be a good proxy for the entire real estate rental industry.

What’s clear from the FRED graph above is that income in this sector has dropped considerably during the pandemic. It was obvious that there would be effects from the nationwide eviction moratorium for unpaid rent. It is unclear, though, whether this is the only mechanism at work here, as there are also reports of substantial moves from rented apartments to owned houses. Regardless, this drop in rental income is unprecedented. The sector is recuperating now, and we’ll be watching to see when it returns to its pre-pandemic level.

But the graph shows something more: Rental income actually started declining in the fourth quarter of 2019, before anyone knew about COVID-19. So, there may be more to the story here than the pandemic. (And no, this decline isn’t due to a seasonal effect: These data are already seasonally adjusted. In fact, the unadjusted data are usually highest in the fourth quarter.)

How this graph was created: Search for “rental income” and pick the series you want displayed.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: REV53TMSA

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