Condo dwellers settle in for the night in Toronto on Wednesday, November 18, 2020. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says the country’s rental market vacancy rate edged up alongside prices as COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Condo dwellers settle in for the night in Toronto on Wednesday, November 18, 2020. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says the country’s rental market vacancy rate edged up alongside prices as COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

CMHC: Rental vacancies, prices edged up as COVID-19 spread across Canada

CMHC said prices were up even as demand was high because rental growth was so strong before the pandemic

More rental properties sat empty in 2020, especially in the Greater Toronto Area where the vacancy rate hit a 14-year high, said Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

A new report released by the federal housing agency on Thursday showed the rental market vacancy rate in the country’s big cities edged up to 3.2 per cent in 2020 from two per cent in 2019.

The slight increase came as COVID-19 spread across Canada, handing renters negotiating power and short-term rentals became less attractive while travel was restricted and unemployment soared.

“The economic impact of the pandemic has significantly reduced rental demand,” said CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan said in a statement.

“Lower international migration, fewer student renters and weaker employment conditions led to weaker inflows of new renters.”

CMHC’s report showed the vacancy rates for Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, rose to 3.4 per cent, 2.7 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively, as they grappled with higher supply and lower demand.

The Toronto area’s vacancy rate was at a 14-year high fuelled by job losses in the service and hospitality sectors, which tend to pay lower wages and employ younger workers.

Newcomers pushed up the rate too.

“Immigrants and non-permanent residents make up a significant share of renter households in the GTA. The COVID-19 pandemic all but halted immigration flows to the GTA,” said CMHC.

“The closure of international borders lessened the population growth of these two key groups that drive rental demand.”

Empty rental properties were even more common in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Vacancy rates increased to 7.5 per cent in Regina, 7.2 per cent in Edmonton, 6.6 per cent in Calgary, 5.9 per cent in Saskatoon and 3.8 per cent in Winnipeg.

In Eastern Canada, St. John’s (7.5 per cent), Charlottetown (2.7 per cent), Moncton (2.8 per cent) and Halifax (1.9 per cent) saw their vacancy rate increase, while Saint John’s stayed stable at 3.1 per cent.

Nationally, rental prices crept up. The average two-bedroom rent across cities with more 10,000 people rose 3.6 per cent to reach $1,165.

The average two-bedroom apartment rent were highest in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Victoria, where rents were $1,792, $1,653, $1,517 respectively.

CMHC said prices were up even as demand was high because rental growth was so strong before the pandemic.

“This suggests that landlords may be less willing to offer lower rents and instead offer alternative incentives at the risk of holding vacant units,” said CMHC.

“Local market intelligence gathered from stakeholders show that incentives such as lower deposit fees, free months of rent, free utilities/parking, and move-in cash bonuses were being used by landlords to attract potential tenants.”

The report also looked at rent arrears for the first time and found that 32.5 per cent of apartment owners reported their arrears rate to have remained similar to 2019, 58.3 per cent said it was higher and almost 10 per cent found it was lower.

Toronto recorded the highest rate of rent arrears in Canada at 10.68 per cent or 34,858 units.

That represents about $55 million in total rent in arrears, which was likely triggered by the city’s high proportion of hospitality and service, who tend to rent and were more likely to be laid off or see wage reductions during the pandemic.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
Nanaimo-raised singer records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah closes out the movie

The Gabriola Environmentally Responsible Trans-Island Express fleet will be able to move to a new depot facility after receiving more than $187,000 of community economic recovery infrastructure program money from the Province of B.C. (Submitted photo)
Gabriola bus system receives $188,000 from province for depot building

Old fire hall to be retrofitted and serve as new bus terminal thanks to COVID-19 recovery funding

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

Submissions are open for Vancouver Island Regional Library’s new online arts and literature magazine, ‘Sea and Cedar.’ (Bulletin file photo)
Submissions sought for library’s new digital arts and literature publication

‘Sea and Cedar’ magazine an initiative of Nanaimo Harbourfront Library

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (News Bulletin photo)
Bear seen at Park Avenue Elementary School field in Nanaimo

Students being advised to walk in groups and avoid the bushes

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A BC Ferries worker out of Swartz Bay has tested positive for COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Swartz Bay ferry worker confirmed to have COVID-19

Employees in direct contact with worker now isolating

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Nanaimo’s Joanne Secord is a quarterfinalist in Inked Magazine’s Cover Model Search contest. (Janayh Wright Photography)
50-year-old Nanaimo mom hopes her tattoos will earn her a magazine cover shoot

Joanne Secord on cusp of semifinals in Inked Magazine contest

The Pacheedaht First Nation is planning a $1-million expansion to its campground in Port Renfrew. (Pixabay photo)
Expanded camping announced for Pacheedaht Campground

$1-million project is part of the B.C. Rural Economic Recovery program

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Nanaimo Courthouse. (News Bulletin file photo)
Motorist sentenced to two years for dangerous driving causing death on Gabriola Island

William Goosman pleaded guilty last fall in connection with incident that killed Jay Dearman

Most Read