Canada's national housing agency poured cold water on the notion that foreign money is driving up Canada's condo market, arguing in a paper Tuesday that foreigners own no more than 2.4 per cent of all the rental condos in Canada.

As part of its mandate to monitor Canada's housing market, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation publishes a report twice a year looking at details of local rental markets across the country. The report is tabulated in April and October every year, and for the first time the October report published Tuesday looked at how many foreigners are buying what are known as "purpose-built rental housing units" — which essentially means a residential property designed to earn investment income from being rented out.

The answer? Not many.

Based on extensive interviews and site visits with owners, managers, or building superintendents of about 20,000 buildings with at least three or more units across the country, here's the CMHC's estimate of many foreigners own condo units in Canada's 11 biggest census metropolitan areas:

  • Victoria: 1.1 per cent,
  • Vancouver: 2.3 per cent,
  • Calgary: 0.2 per cent,
  • Edmonton: 0.1 per cent,
  • Saskatoon: 0.3 per cent,
  • Regina: 0.1 per cent,
  • Winnipeg: 0.1 per cent,
  • Toronto: 2.4 per cent,
  • Ottawa: 0.7 per cent,
  • Montreal: 1.5 per cent and
  • Quebec: 0.6 per cent.

The report should surprise anyone who believes the many local narratives that foreigners are the driving force pushing condo prices much higher than their fundamentals would otherwise indicate.

The CMHC does concede that foreign condo ownership is higher in downtown cores. The rate for the Montreal area as a whole may be 1.5 per cent, but it jumps to 6.9 per cent on Nun's Island, CMHC says.

Similarly, in downtown Toronto the rate is 4.3 per cent, compared with 2.4 per cent for the census metropolitan area as a whole. And Vancouver’s Burrard Peninsula has a foreign investor ownership rate of 5.8 per cent, compared with 2.3 per cent for the area as a whole.

Rents getting pricier

The report contains some other details on the health of Canada's rental market, beyond the influence of foreign money

"Between October 2013 and October 2014," the CMHC says, "in the largest centres the number of purpose-built rental units rose by 2.7 per cent or 42,711 units." 

"This increase in supply outpaced the approximate 39,900 increase in units occupied. Accordingly, the national vacancy rate rose" to 2.8 per cent, the housing agency says.

But there was wide variance in the numbers from city to city. Vacancy rates for condominium apartments ranged from a high of 3.4 per cent in Montreal to a low of 0.7 per cent in Vancouver. 

Rents also ticked higher, on average. Across the country, the average rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment increased 2.5 per cent. That's higher than the 2.4 per cent inflation rate seen in the same period for the economy as a whole.

Across the country, the average rent was $941 per month. "Average monthly rents for two-bedroom apartments in new and existing structures were highest in Calgary ($1,322), Vancouver ($1,311) and Toronto ($1,251)," the CMHC says. "Rents were the lowest in Trois Rivières ($568), Saguenay ($595) and Sherbrooke ($604).​"

Condo rental rates are, in general, a little higher, because condos tend to have modern amenities. Rental prices for two-bedroom condominium apartments were highest in Toronto ($1,818) and lowest in Quebec ($1,070).​

The gap between rents in apartment buildings versus comparable condominium units was highest in Toronto, at $567, and Montreal, at $405 a month.