There's a cliché in movies and TV shows about tiny Manhattan apartments that are barely bigger than a closet but carry an astronomical rent. Well, that's the price you pay and square-footage you get for living on the Upper East Side or in the Village (despite the vastness of the apartment on “Friends"). But in real life, there are indeed many large cities across the country populated by tiny apartments.
So, whether you're looking for an apartment for three in Center City Philadelphia, a cozy studio in Uptown Charlotte or a place for you and your partner in Chicago's Loop, you're most certainly going to find a smaller average apartment in bigger cities than you would in small-town America.
We studied the 100 largest cities in the nation (more than 220,000 residents), measured the sizes of all available studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments and ranked them each from smallest to largest. We then took the combined average rankings to determine the big cities in the U.S. with the smallest apartments.
In a state where San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area vie for all the attention, it's the beautiful and under-appreciated state capital of Sacramento that's California's fastest-growing city. All this influx is increasing demand for rental housing throughout the city, and as such, spaces have inched smaller.
As a growing hub in both the financial and education sectors, a large percentage of new Sacramentans are young professionals finding a community as vibrant but cheaper than places like Portland and Seattle. This has earned Sac-town a reputation as the “most hipster city" in California, a population — as we'll note several times along this list — that has less of a need for a large living space in an increasingly sustainable lifestyle.
While Greensboro, the largest of North Carolina's Piedmont Triad, is one of the top 10 cities with the smallest apartments, it also sort of isn't. The average room sizes for one- and two-bedrooms are downright spacey, both ranked as just the 28th smallest.
But what skyrockets the city into the top 10 is that despite being the 67th-most populous city in the nation, Greensboro has the fifth-smallest studio apartments in America. No matter which type of apartment you snag in Greensboro, however, you're not going to spend a lot of money on rent.
Studios in this Tobacco Road city, in addition to being among the smallest, are also the second cheapest in the land at just $658 a month. But also, one- and two-bedroom units, at $839 and $1,005 respectively, are both among the 10 average cheapest.
Let's call it the U.S. suburb with the smallest apartments. The only metro area satellite city in our top 10, Chula Vista — Spanish for “Beautiful View" — is San Diego's largest suburb with a population of just less than 275,000 and America's 75th largest city.
While tiny in comparison to San Diego at five times its size, Chula Vista offers its own personality — it's one of the nation's most culturally diverse cities, split between the San Diego Bayfront and the foothills of the San Ysidro Mountains and just eight miles from downtown San Diego and nine from Tijuana.
For all its convenience and sunshine, you don't get a lot of bang for your buck, particularly when it comes to studio apartments. Chula Vista has the second-smallest studio apartments among the 100 largest cities, but at a steep $1,891, those tiny units are the 11th-most expensive studios.
But with all those beautiful views, excellent schools, family-friendly suburban neighborhoods, access to both the ocean and mountains and the Chula Vista Lemon Festival and Chula Vista Rose Festival popping up annually, you're not going to want to spend much time at home in those tiny apartments anyway.
It seems as if there's a budget deficit in the nation's capital. Unlike many cities on this list, Washington, D.C., has some of the smallest apartments in America but its prices sure don't reflect the lack of square footage. D.C. has the 16th-, 16th- and 18th-smallest studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments among the 100 biggest cities, but those, respectively, are the 16th-, 12th-, and 14th-most expensive.
Washington, D.C., is a transient city, with much of its population on its way from somewhere else to somewhere else, hanging out for the length of a presidential, senatorial or congressional term, deployment at a government agency or a lobbyist or ambassador's stay. Those regularly asked “so, where do you work?" are often relegated to smaller apartments surrounding key offices or in-demand neighborhoods
But high rents shouldn't be a surprise in a city ranked as the fourth-most expensive city in the country. The good news is that it also has the third-highest average income in the U.S., making your lease expense relative.
Like Washington, D.C., Seattle — in the other Washington — is a bit of a lesser return on investment. While apartments in Seattle are the sixth-smallest in the country, rents can get a bit pricey with the highest lease rates for both one- and two-bedroom units among our top 10, with the latter, at $3,317 a month, the seventh-most expensive among all 100 biggest cities.
Seattle is a gleaming Pacific Northwest city attractive to a swath of new residents from all sectors. But the biggest influx is from millennials, of which it's one of the top 10 cities with the most millennial renters. These young professionals converge on Seattle thanks to its plethora of tech jobs at companies like Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, T-Mobile, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Nintendo of America, a robust college town scene and, of course, a bustling café, bookstore, dispensary and foodie landscape.
It's these millennials in techy Seattle's high-wage jobs that don't mind paying a higher price for a smaller apartment to live in the most desirable neighborhoods close to dining, nightlife and trendy retail.
Hugging the border with its neighbor Kansas, Kansas City — Missouri's second-biggest city — is a surprising entry on the list of the nation's smallest apartments. Perhaps the influx of recent college graduates keeps apartment size needs low, as K.C. is just 40 miles from the University of Kansas, 120 from Kansas State and 125 from Mizzou.
But while sometimes even the president doesn't realize that Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS, are different places, KCMO is an energetic gateway city to the Great Plains. Kansas City may be best known for jazz, Patrick Mahomes and its distinctive barbecue, and that's just fine with Kansas Citians.
In fact, with iconic spots like Arthur Bryant's, Gates Bar-B-Q and Joe's Bar-B-Que — along with neighborhood joints every citizen will swear is best — K.C. will be more than happy to put its super-slow and super-low pulled pork, brisket and burnt ends slathered in sweet molasses and tomato sauce up against anyone else's. Honestly, you only need enough room in your small apartment for all those empty takeout boxes.
Fair or not, many people's familiarity with Albuquerque is from “Breaking Bad," the city where the show is both set and filmed. The same can be said with “In Plain Sight." Or maybe you just know Albuquerque as the spot where Bugs Bunny should have taken a left turn. But Albuquerque actually is a vibrant growing tech and startup hub with a low cost of living, clear skies, a world-famous balloon festival, a renowned craft beer scene, access to top-level skiing and, yes, a booming film industry.
Albuquerque also has some of the smallest apartments in the nation. Fortunately, they also come relatively cheap. While the ABQ has the sixth-smallest average studios, it keeps pace with the seventh-lowest studio rents at just $844 a month. The city also ranks third-lowest among big cities in two-bedroom unit square footage, which are the 13th-cheapest in America. Maybe that's why The Simpsons' favorite baseball team, the Isotopes, moved from Springfield to Albuquerque.
Well, if you're going to have to endure the confinement of a small apartment, at least you shouldn't have to pay a lot for it. While the desert southwest city of Tucson has the third-smallest apartments in the nation, they're relatively cheap.
In fact, at just $659 a month, studio apartments in Tucson are the cheapest of any big city, the lowest among our top 100, to go along with the 10th-cheapest one-bedroom units and the 16th-lowest two-bedrooms. Tucson is the home of the University of Arizona, for which having cheap apartments is good news for students and recent grads who are less likely to mind a bit of a tighter fit in the space.
While on the opposite end of the time scale, these factors are also great for sunbird retirees moving to town in need of low rents but not a ton of space. And even with some of the smallest apartments, Tucson is growing, with a low cost of living and affordable housing prices, as well.
They don't call Reno the "Biggest Little City in the World" for nothing. And that's just as true for apartment sizes as anything. While finishing runner up as the second-smallest apartments in the nation overall, the largest city in Nevada outside of the Vegas metro has the smallest studio and one-bedroom apartments of any big city in the nation.
Reno mixes a bit of the low-key glitz of Las Vegas with a down-home residential Western town vibe. But over the last several years, Reno has boomed with tech jobs and healthcare employment, replacing much of its well-known seediness (and homogeneity) with a family-friendly environment.
But the boon has created a small housing shortage, and more apartments have gone up. These apartments for new arrivals have pushed space resources creating a market for smaller units.
It's not New York, it's not Chicago, it's not Boston. The U.S. city with the smallest overall average apartment square footage is Portland, OR. Maybe that's not much of a surprise. Portland is a young town, the city with the steepest increase in millennial population over the last decade and even described as a “Retirement Community for the Young" by The New York Times.
Representing significant slices of Portland population, hipsters, vegans, foodies, athletes, artists, Bohemians and mountain folk all help to make Portland young, a group that spends much of their time out on the trails, in the mountains or hanging out at cafés and vape shops. The need for large apartments is minimal for the small amount of time at home with Postmates and Labradoodles.
Portland tends to foster a communal vibe, a socially connected life that minimizes the need for spacious living quarters in favor of sustainable space. Good thing because no matter the size — studio, one- or two-bedroom — Portland ranks in the 10 smallest apartments on average among all of the 100 biggest U.S. cities.
The top 10 is just a sampling, but the size disparity of apartments across America's biggest cities becomes much more apparent when you expand the selection to the cities with the top 25 smallest average apartments.
One thing to notice is that New York City is nowhere in sight, falling well outside the top 25 (it's actually number 30), so maybe that tiny Manhattan apartment cliché needs to go by the wayside.
When the data is expanded out to the top 25, a number of larger cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix and Detroit start appearing, which indicates they might be the true targets of the old tiny apartment joke.
|Rank||City||Studio Average Sq Foot||1BR Average Sq Foot||2BR Average Sq Foot|
|5||Kansas City, MO||448||666||994|
|8||Chula Vista, CA||326||704||997|
|12||Las Vegas, NV||383||723||1,014|
|13||St. Petersburg, FL||569||694||996|
|18||San Francisco, CA||514||719||1,047|
|23||San Diego, CA||485||718||1,105|
Where are the smallest of the small, though? The joke often revolves around that amazing online listing for a studio in New York, only to find it's a broom closet! But in which cities is that fictional scenario almost reality?
Studio apartments can be great for people that don't need a lot of space, aren't home much, need an apartment in a second city or are just in need of a place to crash cheaply. These are the cities with the 10 smallest studios.
|Rank||City||Studio Average Sq Foot||Studio Average Rent|
|2||Chula Vista, CA||326||$1,891.15|
|4||Las Vegas, NV||383||$965.96|
|9||Kansas City, MO||448||$1,024.75|
When you live in one of the 10 cities with the smallest one-bedroom apartments, you may want to do some geometry and math to make sure your space fits your lifestyle.
Maybe you're happy with a small living space if your bedroom is comfortably sized. Perhaps you're OK with a cramped TV spot as long as you can get all your gadgets on the kitchen counter. Maybe you can sacrifice a spacious bedroom if your remote work nook helps you be more productive. In these cities, do your interior design research.
|Rank||City||1BR Average Sq Foot||1BR Average Rent|
|8||Kansas City, MO||666||$1,221.59|
If you're moving to or living in any of these 10 cities, the solution to your small apartment problem may just be the second bedroom. If you're living alone or with a partner, a two-bedroom apartment is a perfect way to give yourself some extra living space. By designating a second bedroom as a specialty area — office, workout room, craft space, second TV room or even nursery — you'll open up that much space in your common area.
And if you're living with a roommate who's not a partner, before diving into two-bedroom apartments in these cities, make sure that the bedroom sizes work for both of you, and space is divided comfortably.
|Rank||City||2BR Average Sq Foot||2BR Average Rent|
|10||Corpus Christi, TX||952||$1,090.24|
You can still have the best of both worlds: Living in a big city but also having a big apartment. Enjoy the excitement and employment and entertainment options of the big city without having to sacrifice square footage.
Fortunately, these cities are of a variety of price levels and are spread out all over the U.S., so there's one somewhere near you, from Miami to Jersey City, NJ to Santa Ana, CA and led by Plano, TX, which has the largest one- and two-bedrooms and the third-largest studios.
Guess everything is, indeed, bigger in Texas.
|Rank||City||Studio Average Sq Foot||1BR Average Sq Foot||2BR Average Sq Foot|
|7||Jersey City, NJ||584||763||1,135|
|8||Santa Ana, CA||582||816||1,097|
To find the cities with the smallest apartments, we looked at the average studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom unit size in the 100 largest cities in America according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. We ranked each city by smallest to largest in each unit type and then averaged those rankings together to identify the big cities with the smallest apartments. Cities were excluded from our overall calculation if they did not have sufficient inventory in any unit type.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com's multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in October 2020. We use a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.