Canada’s overall vacancy rate increased from 2.0 per cent in 2019 to 3.2 per cent in 2020 for all bedroom types, according to the latest Rental Market Survey from CMHC. New this year, the survey also included rent arrears data resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. For apartment structures with rental arrears, 32.5 per cent reported that their arrears rate remained similar to 2019, 58.3 per cent reported a higher rate, and 9.2 per cent reported a rent arrears rate lower than what it was last year.
The city of Toronto recorded the highest rate of rent arrears in Canada with 10.68 per cent of all units (34,858) reporting non-payment, representing $55 million in arrears. Given the pandemic disproportionately affected lower paid workers in the hospitality and service sectors, these numbers are reflective of a larger share of population in Toronto with workers in these industries.
In terms of monthly rent, the national average two-bedroom rent across Canada’s urban centres increased by 3.6 per cent to $1,165.
“The vacancy rate for purpose-built rental apartments in Canada’s CMAs increased in 2020,” said Bob Dugan, CMHC’s chief economist. “The economic impact of the pandemic has significantly reduced rental demand. Lower international migration, fewer student renters and weaker employment conditions led to weaker inflows of new renters. While vacancy rates increased in many centres, we continue to see a need for more rental supply to ensure access to affordable housing.”
CMHC conducts the Rental Market Survey annually in October to gauge how socio-economic conditions, demographic trends and other factors impact Canada’s rental markets. Purpose-built structures with three or more rental units in urban areas with populations of more than 10,000 make up the data.
- The vacancy rate for Canada’s three largest cities (Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver) increased due to higher supply and lower demand.
- In British Columbia, vacancy rate increases were seen in Vancouver (2.6%) and Victoria (2.2%) while Kelowna’s (2.1%) vacancy rate decreased.
- In Alberta and Manitoba, vacancy rates increased in Edmonton (7.2%), Calgary (6.6%), Lethbridge (5.6%) and Winnipeg (3.8%). In Saskatchewan, Regina (7.5%) and Saskatoon (5.9%) saw slight decreases in vacancy rate.
- In Toronto (3.4%), the vacancy rate increased due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to the average vacancy rate in the GTA reaching a 14-year high. This can also be explained by job losses in the service and hospitality sectors, which tend to pay lower wages and employ younger workers—key characteristics of typical renter households.
- In Ontario, vacancy rates increased in Thunder Bay (4.1%), Ottawa (3.9%), Windsor (3.6%), London (3.4%), Kingston (3.2%), St. Catharines-Niagara (2.7%), Peterborough (2.6%) and Greater Sudbury (2.5%).
- Vacancy rates decreased in Hamilton (3.5%) and Barrie (2.1%). In Belleville (3.0%), Brantford (2.2%) and Guelph (2.2%), vacancy rates remained stable. No changes occurred in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo (2.1%) and Oshawa (2.3%).
- Montréal’s (2.7%) vacancy rate increased. A decrease in net international migration, the absence of in-person university courses because of COVID-19 and the return to the long-term rental market of tourist-oriented short-term rental units, all contributed to vacancy rate increases.
- Other Québec CMAs saw decreased rates – notably in Saguenay (2.8%), Sherbrooke (1.3%) and Trois-Rivières (1.3%).
- In Eastern Canada, St. John’s (7.5%), Charlottetown (2.7%), Moncton (2.8%) and Halifax (1.9%) saw their vacancy rate increase while it remained stable in Saint John (3.1%).
Average rents for the purpose-built rental market:
- Nationally, average rents across urban centres increased by 3.6% for a two-bedroom apartment between October 2019 and October 2020.
- The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased in Windsor (8.7%), Barrie (8.0%), Belleville (6.3%), London (6.8%), St. Catharines-Niagara (6.1%), Hamilton (5.0%), Guelph (4.8%), Peterborough (5.3%), Brantford (5.3%), Ottawa (5.2%), Moncton (4.7%), Oshawa (4.6%), Toronto (4.5%), Halifax (4.2%) and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo (4.0%).
- The average two-bedroom apartment rent was highest in Vancouver ($1,792), Toronto ($1,635), Ottawa ($1,517), Victoria ($1,507), Barrie ($1,393), Kelowna ($1,391), Guelph ($1,356), Oshawa ($1,352), Kingston ($1,327), Calgary ($1,323), Edmonton ($1,272), Winnipeg ($1,262), and Halifax ($1,255).
Digging deeper into rent arrears data:
- Among Canada’s urban centres, 6.11% (or 116,929 apartment units) were in arrears out of a total universe of 1,912,290 units. This represented approximately $150 million in total rent in arrears or 0.59% of total expected rent. This small proportion of rent (0.59%) relative to units (6.11%) suggests that primarily apartment units with lower rents were in arrears.
- The Toronto CMA recorded the highest rate of rent arrears (0.92%) in Canada with 10.68% of all units (34,858) reporting arrears, representing $55 million in total rent in arrears.
- Among all provinces, Ontario posted the highest arrears rate in Canada, with 10.18% of apartment units and 0.81% of rent. This represented approximately $87 million in arrears as of October 2020.
Highlights for secondary rental condominium apartment market:
- The average vacancy rate for rental condominium apartments across 17 surveyed centres increased from 1.0% from 1.5%.
- Victoria (0.3%), Hamilton (0.3%), London (0.3%), Ottawa (0.3%), Vancouver (0.6%), Kelowna (0.6%) and Halifax (0.9%) reported vacancy rates below the national average.
- Calgary (1.6%), Toronto (1.7%), Winnipeg (1.7%), Saskatoon (1.8%), Edmonton (2.0%) Montréal (2.0%), Québec (3.2%) and Regina (5.0%) reported vacancy rates above the national average.
- The national average two-bedroom condominium apartment rent increased to $1,663 from $1,577. Rates were highest in Toronto ($2,440), Victoria ($2,223), Vancouver ($2,058) and Hamilton ($1,947).