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

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, June, 12, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Okanagan-Shuswap real estate market continues hot start to 2021

Sales in February were up more than 100 per cent over last year, reports the Association of Interior Realtors

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

Phase four of the Kicking Horse Canyon project will twin the winding stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway just east of Golden. (file photo)
Trans-Canada Highway reduced to one lane east of Golden

It’s the first of the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 closures which will ramp up in the coming weeks

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Lisa Jilg is pictured at her store with signs requesting the donation of items for those struggling with mental health challenges, and those experiencing homelessness. (Contributed)
‘He just wanted to be accepted’: Okanagan mother opens up about son’s fatal overdose

Judgment toward those with mental health challenges needs to stop, says West Kelowna mother

A protest has been planned for March 5, 2020 over Penticton council’s decision to reject an application from BC Housing to keep an emergency winter shelter open over a year longer than originally planned. (Jesse Day - Western News)
‘Bring your tent’: Protest planned in Penticton’s Gyro Park over winter shelter closure

Protesters plan to show council ‘what the result of their decision will look like’

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

A recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki responded to BC Housing minster David Eby’s remarks that the city has put themselves at risk of creating a tent city Wednesday, March 3, 2020. (Western News file photo)
Penticton mayor calls out BC Housing minister for ‘irresponsible fear-mongering’

Council recently rejected BC Housing’s request to keep a winter shelter open longer than first planned

Most Read