Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

(MoneyWatch) Rents across the nation are creeping up. But in some cities they're not rising slightly so much as skyrocketing.

Although the average rent across the U.S. is $1,231 per month, in certain areas it can be triple that number. Landlords can afford to charge such daunting prices because there are so few apartments available in high-demand cities.

"We're experiencing some of the lowest national vacancy rates since the mid-80s," ApartmentList.com CEO John Kobs said.

The rental vacancy rate has been falling over the past few years. In 2009, the vacancy rate was 12.3 percent, but it fell this past year to 9.3 percent, according to the National Multi Housing Council. And it doesn't look like this trend will change anytime soon.

Buying a home is getting more expensive and more difficult. With mortgage rates and home prices rising, and with mortgage lenders still demanding high down payments and pristine credit scores to get a loan, more potential homebuyers are content to rent.

These factors are combining to push up rental prices, Kobs said. Prices are no steeper than in these 10 cities, where rents can go up to $4,000 per month.

ApartmentList.com calculated the most expensive cities for renters across the U.S. by looking at the 50 most populated cities, which all exceed 350,000 people. The apartment search service then compared the cities' median rental prices for studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

Of the 10 cities on the list, six are located on the West Coast, while the other four are on the opposite side of the country on the East Coast. Of the six out west, five are located in California, with three of those clustered in the northern end of the state.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

10. San Diego

Median studio apartment: $1,095

Median one-bedroom apartment: $1,445

Median two-bedroom apartment: $1,795


The median rent in San Diego is a few hundred dollars north of the national average, at $1,670 per month. Still, the city was the most affordable in the top 10 in all three categories. It had the least expensive prices for studios as well as for one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

9. Seattle

Median studio apartment: $1,210

Median one-bedroom apartment: $1,525

Median two-bedroom apartment: $1,995


Seattle is rapidly becoming one of the nation's most expensive cities, and its rent prices reflect that. The Emerald City's median rent price is $1,718. The city's hippest areas, such as Capitol Hill, are commanding some of the highest prices in the city.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

8. Miami

Median studio apartment: $1,319

Median one-bedroom apartment: $1,535

Median two-bedroom apartment: $1,913


Miami's real estate market has made a miraculous turnaround this past year, with prices jumping each month. The rapidly increasing home prices are quickly pricing out first-time homebuyers and causing more renters to stay put, leaving the city with a limited number of rental units available. Median rent prices are $1,742 across the city.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

7. Oakland, Calif.

Median studio apartment: $1,700

Median one-bedroom apartment: $1,857

Median two-bedroom apartment: $1,700


Oakland's expensive rental market is driven largely by its proximity to San Francisco, which makes an appearance later on the list. San Franciscans are fleeing the nearly unmanageable rent prices in that city and heading over the bay to the comparatively less expensive Oakland, where rents average $1,812.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

6. San Jose, Calif.

Median studio apartment: $1,455

Median one-bedroom apartment: $1,857

Median two-bedroom apartment: $2,350


San Jose has a high concentration of millionaires driven by the local area's tech companies. That kind of wealth is reflected in its home and rent prices, which are growing at a rapid clip. San Jose's median rent price is $2,165. Although San Jose ranks sixth on the list, it has the lowest vacancy rate at just 4 percent.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

5. Los Angeles

Median studio apartment: $1,405

Median one-bedroom apartment: $1,740

Median two-bedroom apartment: $2,406


Homes and apartments aren't cheap in L.A., so it's a little surprising that the city appears only halfway down the top 10. With a median rent price hitting $2,177, Los Angeles' rent prices are considerably less expensive than the remaining cities on the list.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

4. Washington, D.C.

Median studio apartment: $1,675

Median one-bedroom apartment: $2,190

Median two-bedroom apartment: $3,110


Rent prices in the nation's capital are expensive -- the median price beats out L.A. by more than $500, coming in at $2,699 per month. Traditionally, Washington, D.C., has been an expensive city to live, and that hasn't changed this year.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

3. Boston

Median studio apartment: $2,000

Median one-bedroom apartment: $2,965

Median two-bedroom apartment: $3,505


Although Boston is one of the smaller cities on the list, it is one of the most expensive places to rent, and that doesn't even include the super wealthy Cambridge area. Boston's median rent price is a whopping $3,190. Boston also has the most expensive one-bedroom apartment price in the U.S.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

2. New York

Median studio apartment: $2,300

Median one-bedroom apartment: $2,950

Median two-bedroom apartment: $3,550


With a median price of nearly $3,344 a month, New York's rents are as high as its skyscrapers. The city's studio apartments are the most expensive on the list, so going small won't save renters much money.

Top 10 priciest U.S. cities to rent an apartment

1. San Francisco

Median studio apartment: $2,295

Median one-bedroom apartment: $2,898

Median two-bedroom apartment: $3,930


San Francisco takes the top spot as the most expensive city in the U.S. to rent, edging out New York by a couple of bucks. The median rental price in the City by the Bay is $3,396.

Kobs, who lives in the city, said the market is "dog eat dog."

"I'll walk down the street here in San Francisco and see 40 or 50 people on the sidewalk, and I think there's a new brunch place opening up," he said. "It'll end up being an open house."