5 Things to Know about Rising Rents in Metro Atlanta

While metro Atlanta, for now, has mostly avoided the eviction tsunami that many feared earlier in the pandemic, renters here have been hit by a one-two punch: rising inflation and soaring rents.

And without early pandemic-era eviction moratoriums to afford some protection, the 50% of City of Atlanta residents who rent a home are in a particularly vulnerable situation. Georgia is one of 25 states where rent control is not allowed. Without caps on rent increases, landlords can charge whatever they think the market will bear.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has identified housing as a top regional issue. The agency has developed the Metro Atlanta Housing Strategy to help local governments address rising costs. ARC has also been tracking eviction filings, in collaboration with the Atlanta Fed and Georgia Tech.

So, how tough is it out there for renters right now? Here are five things to know:

1. Rental price hikes in 2022 were dramatic

Rents are rising sharply in metro Atlanta, like many parts of the country. Consider the City of Atlanta, where the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment has risen by a whopping 31% in the past five years, from $1,308 to $1,710, according to Zumper.

a line graph shows the rise in rental prices for a one-bedroom apartment from Dec 2014 to Apr 2022. A dramatic increase in costs occurs after Jan 2021.
Graph demonstrates dramatic rise in rental rates beginning around January 2021 for one-bedroom apartments in Atlanta; Source: Zumper

The annual rate of increase is accelerating. In the past year, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city of Atlanta increased by 16%, compared to closer to an average annual increase of around 4% for the previous six years.

For Atlanta residents like Shawn Canavan, rising rents diminish his ability to save for the future. Canavan, who lives in an apartment building near Midtown Atlanta, was paying $1,170 monthly for his one-bedroom apartment in 2020. In 2021, his rent went up $1,468. This year, the new lease is priced at $1,656 – a nearly $500 increase in just two years.

Stories like Shawn’s are found across the metro region. Here are just a few other cities that have seen major rent hikes this year:

City and CountyAverage % Increase in Rent (2021 to 2022)
Marietta, Cobb County12%
Forest Park, Clayton County20%
Stone Mountain, DeKalb County27%
Buford, Gwinnett County60%

2. Inflated prices are exacerbating renters’ cost burden

While rental prices have gone up, so have the prices of everyday goods and services, from gas to groceries. In fact, Atlanta’s inflation rate tops national averages, experiencing over 10% increases in the cost of goods from March 2021 to March 2022, compared to just under 8% nationally.

For metro Atlantans, this means the cost of living across the board has become more expensive. 16% increases on housing costs and 10.6% on other goods and services are dwarfing wage increases, which clocked in at a modest 3.1% growth for 2021. And compared to other major cities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the City of Atlanta falls behind in wage and salary adjustments. It even falls behind the U.S. average of 5%.

Line graph comparing wage and salary increases of major US cities, including a US average. Seattle ranks at the top of the list with Atlanta ranking at the bottom
The graph shows that City of Atlanta’s wage and salary increases fell behind other major cities in 2021; Source: BLS

3. Navigating rental assistance funding is complicated

Recognizing the housing crisis, hundreds of millions of federal dollars have been distributed over the past two years to counties and cities across Georgia, while nonprofit and community organizations rallied to raise funds to help Atlanta-area renters avoid eviction.

But accessing these funds has proved challenging. For months, local organizations ran out of funding within days as renters in need flooded hotlines seeking financial assistance to tide them over. Meanwhile, county program applications for assistance regularly closed due to overwhelming response, sometimes not reopening for weeks.

Additionally, many funding applications required applicants to meet certain criteria, such as income level or employment status. Despite the hurdles, many needy families in the Atlanta region have applied to receive assistance. Since March 2021, Fulton County alone has had over 30,000 applicants.

Their average household income? Just $18,600. That’s a monthly income of $1,546 – nearly $200 less than the average one-bedroom apartment in the City of Atlanta.

“The difficulty in finding affordable housing is particularly acute among renter households earning less than $50,000 a year in the 11-county metro region,” says Erik Woodworth, research and application development coordinator at the Atlanta Regional Commission. “Policies and strategies to improve housing affordability in the region will need to be targeted to be effective.”

4. Eviction filings are largely steady

Eviction filings in metro Atlanta’s five largest counties have held steady over the last several months, averaging between 1,500 and 4,000 filings each month. That’s a big improvement compared to 2019, before the pandemic, when monthly eviction filings were consistently around 12,000 each month.

Experts say factors like the eviction moratorium and consistent additional infusion of funding into states and communities for rental support has kept filings in check. However, staying vigilant about the status of evictions is critical. Court filings data shows that after the CDC eviction moratorium expired last August, evictions began to tick up slightly.

Graph shows total monthly eviction filings for the 5-county Atlanta region with a comparison line to show eviction rates from 2019
Eviction filings in the five-county Atlanta area are down compared to 2019, but rates have begun to increase again after the expiration of the CDC moratorium; Source: 33n

However, even with eviction moratoriums in place, countless families experienced eviction. In addition to talking about his own experience, Canavan mentioned that at the height of the early pandemic – between August 2020 and December 2021 – he witnessed at least eight evictions in his building alone.

5. “Self-help” evictions go unreported

While legal eviction filings have remained steady, this may under-report what’s really going on. That’s because the number of so-called off-record or self-help evictions is difficult to quantify.

These evictions are not processed through courts but rather occur when landlords make the property inaccessible or inhospitable to the tenant. Tactics include changing locks on doors and stopping utility services. These are illegal in Georgia when carried out without a court filing and proper notification to the tenant. And because self-help evictions are not done through the court, it is impossible to know how many take place.

Part of the issue here is that tenants’ rights are not widely understood by most residents. Pressure or outright threats from landlords about turning off key utilities like gas or water can scare or manipulate tenants into leaving the property, which can forfeit their right to that housing.

Organizations such as the Housing Justice League, the Atlanta Friends Service Committee, and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation are working to empower tenants with knowledge and resources to help them prevent and protect against self-help evictions.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.