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San Francisco apartments are shrinking in size

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But the city’s diminishing apartment size isn’t the smallest in the nation

A tiny model house sitting on a table. Via Shutterstock

Curbed SF’s regular Curbed Comparisons column features tiny apartments commanding top dollar, with units well under 500 square feet offered for thousands of dollars per month.

According to San Francisco-based rental site Zumper, this is part of a larger trend of apartments in the city getting smaller in size. The move toward tiny living in SF jumped in 2013, which is roughly the same time that San Francisco changed its laws to allow the construction of ever-smaller apartments.

In a survey of apartment sizes published at the end of June, Zumper’s Crystal Chen writes, “San Francisco one bedroom [size] has been on a steady decline the last few years, dropping almost 70 square feet when comparing 2013 to 2019. [...] Inventory for one bedrooms have been getting smaller with every year that passes.”

In 2013, the average size of a one-bedroom SF apartment on Zumper measured 769 square feet. By 2019, it fell to 700 square feet.

Note that small things can make a big difference in surveys like this; for example, the median size ballooned to 800 square feet in 2015. But as Chen told the San Francisco Chronicle, this was on account of just one building that opened that year and flooded the site with hundreds of new listings for unusually roomy rooms.

Right now, Zumper lists 488 one-bedroom San Francisco apartments, but only 287 of them are at least 500 square feet, and just 148 of the units offer at least 700 feet.

According to law, an apartment in San Francisco must be at least 220 square feet, and at least 70 square feet of that space must compose common areas—i.e., bathroom and kitchen combined.

Previously, the rules demanded 290 square feet. But in late 2012, shortly before Zumper started keeping tabs on the size of its apartment listings, State Sen. Scott Wiener, then a city supervisor, pushed through a change in the law that shrank the size of an allowable SF home to the smallest nationwide.

“To confront San Francisco’s rising housing affordability crisis, we must be creative and flexible,” Wiener said at the time. That legislation capped the number of “micro units” at 325 citywide.

While Zumper provides its own source of data, at least one other competing rental platform agrees with Chen’s findings. Rent Cafe surveyed the biggest and smallest apartment schemes across major U.S. cities in 2018 and found that SF apartments averaged just 737 square feet, the fifth smallest nationwide.

That’s a difference of 300 square feet compared to the largest apartments in the country (located in Tallahassee, Florida, which averaged 1,038 square footage), and just 26 square feet larger than the smallest homes in the country, which Rent Cafe pegged as sitting in Seattle, Washington.