Corporate landlords and market power: What does the single-family rental boom mean for our housing future?
The single-family rental (SFR) industry became a new site of institutional investment in the aftermath of the 2008 foreclosure crisis and the wider macroeconomic and policy shifts that ensued. Together with these political economic conditions, rapid advances in digital technologies, data, and analytics have been a crucial factor in the corporate transformation of SFR and the housing landscape more broadly. The four largest public and private SFR operators together control over 200,000 homes, and the SFR asset class has boomed in the pandemic, drawing interest from a wide range of investors and spawning new business models and partnerships. In this report we examine SEC filings and quarterly investor calls for Invitation Homes, American Homes 4 Rent, Tricon American Homes, and Front Yard Residential to trace how institutional narratives and market strategies have evolved in the SFR asset class. As the pool of foreclosed properties has largely dried up, SFR companies are developing new strategies to increase growth and returns for shareholders, including build-for rent and partnerships with builders. During the COVID-19 pandemic, corporate SFR landlords pushed major rent increases and devoted energy to increasing revenues through ancillary fees that further add to tenants’ housing costs. Corporate landlords are actively finding ways to cut down costs, particularly through technology and the built environment of homes, as well as appealing property tax assessments. What does it mean for the rest of us when a handful of landlords have so much power? For regular people, the structural advantage enjoyed by corporate landlords amplifies the inequalities endemic to capitalist housing systems. Amid the new round of investor-led growth, corporate landlords are poised to expand their portfolios further. As they take on an outsized role in the markets where their footprint is the largest, access to billions in investment capital seeking returns in the hot housing market and troves of data from their in-house operations put corporate landlords in a position of structural power in the market.