Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Salt Lake City ranks first in the U.S. for rent increases with rents averaging $816.

Salt Lake City registered the largest apartment-rent increase in the nation, as rents have soared 10.4 percent since last year, according to a report this week.

The Provo/Orem area was a close second, with rents increasing 10.1 percent over the past 12 months, according to the report by RealFacts Inc.

Among the four Western states that the report called the "desert" region of the country, Utah ranked second in average rents, at $799. Nevada was tops at $882, Arizona was third at $783 and New Mexico fourth, with average rents of $730.

Utah also registered the highest average occupancy rates for renters, at 95.3 percent, with New Mexico second at 93.9 percent, followed by Nevada at 92.7 percent and Arizona at 89.5 percent.

RealFacts, a company specializing in multifamily data, said that average rents across the nation increased by only 2.5 percent in the past year, and 0.6 percent since March.

Wells Fargo economist Kelly Matthews said Friday that rental rates in Utah are increasing because of the current housing situation.

"Everybody was moving out of rentals and getting mortgages and buying homes," he said. "That process has reversed now, and many people can't get mortgages or don't want to get into houses, so the demand for rentals is definitely stronger now."

Matthews said that the recent increase in the number of home foreclosures also may have played a role in the increasing rental prices and dwindling vacancies.

"More than likely, the foreclosure process is increasing the demand on rentals, and certainly the fact that home sales have dropped off so dramatically has, too," he said. "People were moving out of rentals into houses because they could get mortgages so easily, and in many cases getting mortgages that they may not have appropriately been able to qualify for."

But RealFacts chief executive Carole Latham contends that the data show that weak markets for home ownership are also the weak markets for apartment rents and occupancy in most of the areas surveyed by her company, based in Novato, Calif..

Utah and Salt Lake City, however, have seemed to buck the national trend, due to Utah's comparatively strong economy. She said the higher rents are a result of the relative stability of the area's local economy.

While Provo-area rents jumped 10.1 percent, the city is doing what it can to address the issue of affordable housing for its residents, said city spokeswoman Helen Anderson.

"Most cities want to make sure that housing is affordable for the people who make up the backbone of the community, such as teachers, nurses and firefighters," she said. "Provo city still has more housing opportunities for that group than any other city in Utah County."

Salt Lake City spokeswoman Helen Langan said that Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker has said he was making affordable housing one of his top priorities.

"One of the initiatives Mayor Becker is currently working on is a comprehensive citywide policy that would seek to address affordable housing through the various programs and decisions the city makes on a daily basis," she said.

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