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California landlords prep for the rise of Gen Z

Apartment rental companies are upgrading the technology and finishes in their units to lure Gen Z tenants. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Millennials are the largest group of renters but Generation Z is right on their heels, with the oldest of the group now in their late teens and early 20's and starting to enter the rental market.

In Southern California, apartment rental companies are anticipating a flood of Gen Z customers through the coming years and are adjusting their business practices to court the most tech-savvy generation of all. 

Matthew Buck, spokesman for the California Apartment Association, said his members are adding faster Wi-Fi to their units, as well as USB ports and phone-charging stations to attract Gen Zers.

"They’ve grown up their whole lives with digital media, smartphones and the like," Buck said.

Gen Z, like millennials, are expected to delay marriage longer than older generations. So Buck said the goal is to keep them in a unit for as long as possible.

"A lot of our members are saying, 'How do we keep them there here for eight, nine years?'" Buck said. 

Buck said one tactic is to create as home-like an environment as possible by installing granite countertops and high-tech appliances, including "smart" refrigerators that can keep track of a tenant's groceries.

Buck said it's smart business sense to prepare for Generation Z. According to the real estate site Zillow, Gen Z already represents 14 percent of renters, compared to about 50 percent for millennials.  

Gen Z renters will increase their impact on the market as the demographic group is poised to outnumber millennials by nearly 1 million people by 2020, according to Zillow.

Nineteen-year old Daniel Ramos of Los Angeles plans to start looking for his first place in the coming months. And he said he'll expect a video of the apartment or a 360-degree virtual tour in the ads.

"It’ll show that they’re up-to-date if they have one of those things," Ramos said. "You’ll know they’ll have good wi-fi there."

Ramos said he needs a strong signal to stream YouTube videos or watch Netflix. He no longer watches television.

Buck said property owners are expanding their online presence to accommodate younger apartment hunters who want buildings to have active Facebook pages and positive Yelp reviews.

In the meantime, building owners keep thinking of ways to make their properties more attractive. One trend has been creating more communal spaces that feature charging stations, allowing Gen Z tenants to hang out together, while powering their phones.