A pedestrian passes luxury rental apartments in Portland on Friday, May 6, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Portland ranked among the top 20 U.S. cities with the most expensive rents at a time when one- and two-bedroom apartment rents are decreasing nationally for the first time in two years.

With median one-bedroom apartment rents at $1,777, Portland ranked 18th, just behind Honolulu, Hawaii, in a survey released Tuesday by Zumper, which analyzed rental data from more than one million active listings across the country. Competition for apartments in Portland has become so heated that there have been some bidding wars.

But inflated prices and fears of a recession are causing price decreases in many metropolitan areas throughout the country, and that trend is expected to continue in the slower winter rental months, including in Maine, according to Zumper.

“We saw historic levels of migration throughout the pandemic, as people switched to working from home and re-imagined their living situations,” Zumper CEO Anthemos Georgiades said. “Now — with a turbulent, unpredictable economy causing fear of recession — migrations are slowing, occupancy rates are falling and rent prices are following suit.”

The company’s survey of October rental prices throughout the country showed rent decreases compared with the previous month, even though yearly comparisons still showed rents rising but at a slower rate.

Nationally, the median rent on a one-bedroom apartment declined almost 1 percent compared with September to $1,491. Compared with last October, the median price was up 9.2 percent, but that is down after 12 straight months of double-digit annual increases.

Boston and Providence also ranked in the top 20 highest-priced apartments, with the Rhode Island city just ahead of Portland at 14th place with a median rent of $1,910 for a one bedroom. Boston ranked second with a median rent of $3,060, bumping San Francisco to third place at $3,020. New York topped the list at $3,860, which is up more than 24 percent in October compared with last year although it is down 2.3 percent compared with September.

Zumper cited zoning laws that favor single-family homes and new apartment inventory skewed toward the luxury market as reasons for Boston’ rising rental rates. However, it expects prices to soften a bit because the large number of students who come to Boston in the fall are now settled in and a traditionally slow season for renting is setting in.

Counter to national trends, rents in most of Maine’s largest cities continued to rise, with Portland’s rent for a one bedroom rising 11 percent in October compared with last year. The average studio apartment rent of $1,155 was down 8 percent, but a two-bedroom apartment at $2,083 was up 12 percent. Some 55 percent of the households in Portland are renter-occupied, and affordable apartments are hard to find.

Lewiston had a median one-bedroom price of $901, up 8 percent compared with last year. That ranks it 87th on the Zumper list, around the same price as Tallahassee, Florida. Some 52 percent of households in Lewiston are renter-occupied. As of Oct. 22, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Lewiston is $1,295, up 23 percent over last year.

Bangor, with a median rent of $650 for a one-bedroom apartment, was up 8 percent from last year. Some 52 percent of households in Bangor are renter-occupied.

But Bangor is getting more affordable, according to Zumper. Over the past month the average rent for a studio apartment decreased by 9 percent to $775. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment decreased by 33 percent to $650 in October compared with the previous month and the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment decreased by 10 percent to $1,250.

“In many metro areas, declining prices are actually a correction to prices that’d become overly inflated,” Georgiades said.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...