Survey: Davis Apartment Vacancy Rate Up From Pre-Pandemic Lows

Pink and green balloons draw attention to an apartment rental sign
City apartment complexes seek to attract UC Davis students to lease for fall 2022. A survey in fall 2021 found vacancy rates improved from pre-pandemic lows. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The apartment vacancy rate in the city of Davis eased some from its pre-pandemic lows as students returned to the University of California, Davis, for in-person instruction in the fall, according to a survey report released today (Feb. 2).

The 1.4% blended vacancy rate — including apartments leased by the unit and by the bed — is significantly lower than the 12.2% for fall 2020 when the campus planned for remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But excluding that year, it is the highest since 2016, when the report began calculating a combined vacancy rate, and it ranged between 0.3% and 1.0%.

Rent for bed- and unit-leased apartments increased by a combined average of 10.9% in fall 2021 compared to the previous year.

The results are from the university’s vacancy- and rental-rate survey, conducted since at least 1975 to provide the campus and surrounding communities with information to support planning.

Vacancies by unit type

According to the survey, 81 apartments, or 1.1%, of 7,083 leased by unit were vacant and available for lease, compared with 570 or 8.4% vacant among 6,797 apartments in fall 2020.

The number of units leased by the bed rather than the unit as a whole more than doubled since fall 2020 and now account for 30% of the market-rate apartments in the survey. “This increase is a result of new deliveries of bed-leasing properties, expansion of existing bed-leasing properties, and conversion of unit-leasing properties to bed-leasing arrangements,” the report said. 

Among the 2,996 units leased by the bed, 225, or 2.4%, of the 9,376 beds were vacant. In fall 2020, 29.8% of 4,300 beds in this type of unit were vacant.

Rental rates

The combined average rental rate increased 10.9% from $2,183 per unit in fall 2020 to $2,420. The report attributes the increase, in part, to the growing number of larger bed-leased units, which bring in more rent per unit compared with unit-leased apartments. It also suggests that properties may have increased rents in 2021 at a higher rate to make up for lower increases in 2020.

The average monthly rent for unit-leased apartments of all sizes — from studios to four or more bedrooms — was up 4.7%, from $1,943 in fall 2020 to $2,034. The average rate for a bed lease rose 1.1%, from $1,050 in fall 2020 to $1,062.

While average rents increased, 9% of respondents reported decreasing their asking rents to fill vacancies. Reductions ranged from 2% to 30%, with an average of 10%.

Representatives of 40 complexes — down from 44 in 2020 but up from 13 in 2019 — said they offered incentives and move-in specials to help fill vacancies and attract new residents. With the value averaging about $700, common incentives and specials included free or discounted rent, waived application fees, gift cards and giveaways.

About the survey

A total of 119 apartment complexes and property management companies representing 10,540 rental units, or 18% more units than last year, responded to the survey, commissioned by UC Davis Student Housing and Dining Services. The report’s calculations exclude units rented at below-market rates; only the 10,079 market-rate units were included.

Campus housing

In the fall quarter, UC Davis housed about 14,080 students and their family members. In addition, more than 250 beds have been designated for isolating students living in residence halls who test positive for COVID-19.

With capacity to accommodate slightly more than 15,000 students on campus, the campus has already met the goal of providing at least that many beds by fall 2023 under the terms of a 2018 memorandum of understanding with the city of Davis and Yolo County.

Even during the pandemic, the campus has continued planning and constructing new student housing and addressing issues of affordability of student housing more broadly.

A student poses for a photo outside Shasta  Hall in September 2021.
Shasta Hall at UC Davis welcomed its first student residents in fall 2021 — a year ahead of schedule. (Alexander Fisher-Wagner/UC Davis)

In fall 2020, it opened the first phase of The Green at West Village with more than 1,000 beds for transfer and continuing students. In fall 2021, it opened an additional 2,300 beds at The Green and, a year early, opened Shasta Hall with about 800 residence hall beds.

Anticipated to open in fall 2023, the expanded Orchard Park redevelopment project will provide up to 200 two-bedroom units for students with families and housing for up to 1,100 graduate students. The total bed count for the new Orchard Park will be approximately 1,550.


In fall 2021, a total of 41,158 students enrolled at UC Davis. While most students are associated with the campus in Davis, about 2,000 of the total participate in programs at locations outside of Davis, such as the Sacramento campus.

UC Davis also tracks student population as a three-quarter average for implementing the 2018 Long Range Development Plan forecast of 39,000 students at the Davis campus. Estimates indicate the LRDP three-quarter average will be approximately 37,000 students for the 2021-22 academic year.

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