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

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Essie Boelema, a 17-year-old lavender farmer, is passionate about the plant. (Screenshot/Special to The Star)
VIDEO: Langley lavender growers say season soon to be in full bloom

Family-owned farm marks five years by preparing for a summer of sales, tours, and growth

Mounties say they “corralled” four Ford Mustangs April 4 after an officer saw the muscle cars racing down 184 Street near 53 Avenue at about 10 p.m. (File Photo)
Mounties impound four Mustangs

Surrey RCMP say they seized four cars for street racing

Work was underway on the interior of the new Tennis Centre location in Langley. Popularity of the sport has risen during the pandemic (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Tennis business expands into Langley

‘Busiest we’ve ever been’ says manager

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Surrey RCMP are seeking the public's help to locate three puppies stolen from a South Surrey home on April 10. (Surrey RCMP photos)
Puppies stolen during weekend break-and-enter in South Surrey

Surrey RCMP seeking public’s assistance in locating three American Bulldog puppies

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Most Read