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

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow is closing its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
Petition to save South Okanagan’s only midwife clinic nears 3,000 signatures

After 12 years, Willow Community Midwives has to close its doors due to a shortage of midwives

Calls for potential overdoses in B.C. spiked in 2020, especially in the Okanagan - Shuswap. Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. (BCHES photo)
UBCO program increases drug checking availability in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon

January 2021 data shows of 95 opioid samples tested across Interior Health, 93 contained fentanyl

Youth from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and the Kootenays were able to dig into two evenings of online learning and connection through United Way Southern Interior B.C.’s <CODE>anagan program. (Submitted)<code> </code>
CODEanagan gives youth a chance to learn about technology

The youth, aged 12 to 21, built their own WordPress sites and developed blogging ideas

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

Okanagan patients will benefit from the recent inclusion of the Medical Arts Health Research Group in a worldwide study with the National Institute of Health (NIH). The study will be a global collaboration for finding better treatments for COVID-19. (File photo)
Okanagan research group involved with finding better COVID treatments

Okanagan Medical Arts Health Research Group invited to collaborate in global study

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 new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Larch Place is the first building to be built in the BC Housing, Canadian Mental Health Association housing project at the corner of Third Street SW and Fifth Avenue SW. This view is from the Shuswap Street side where it sits behind the Graystone East building. (File photo)
Opening of doors at new housing development in Salmon Arm welcomed

BC Housing announces opening of 32 rental units, with 35 more expected in summer 2021

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, before she knew she would change literature. Photo Wikipedia
And Then There Were None

What book knocked your booties off when you were young?

A webinar on dealing with dementia will be held Wednesday, March 10, 2021 (Submitted)
Webinar on dementia scheduled for March 10

Okanagan residents invited to event on legal issues surrounding dementia

Most Read