Calgary at a Crossroads

As apartments sit empty across the city with Calgary in the grips of an oil downturn, many landlords are offering tenants rent reductions and incentives like free parking and utilities.

"From a landlord's point of view, it's a very difficult market out there right now," says Gerry Baxter with the Calgary Residential Rental Association.

"From a tenant's point of view, it's a wonderful market because you have the opportunity to shop around," he added.

Lisa Reinhardt says the lease on her Beltine apartment was ending this month — and when she told her landlord she was looking around, they responded right away.

Gerry Baxter CRRA

Gerry Baxter, with the Calgary Residential Rental Association, says it's a difficult time for landlords. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"They actually offered me some money off my rent every month, in my case it was about $150."

"Then they offered me an incentive off of my first month's rent after I signed," she added.

In addition to rent reductions, some landlords are offering incentives ranging from free parking and utilities to free rent for the first month, Baxter said.

Renter's market

Last fall, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimated the apartment vacancy rate in Calgary was around five per cent.

Although no official figures are currently available, Baxter says vacancy rates are all over the map — from the low single digits to even a few buildings with vacancies around 20 per cent.

Calgary apartment building

There have been recent warnings of a market correction, and now word that building permits on single-family and two-family homes fell 37.1 per cent in 2015. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"There just isn't the tenant base here to be able to fill all of the units that are empty in this city at this time," Baxter says.

"Many of the landlords I speak with tell me they have nice property, they're getting none to a few phone calls....  It's taking them much, much longer to be able to be able to rent the units now," he added.

And that means more selection for renters when it comes to location and amenities.

"There's a lot of [rental units] to choose from and, as such, you're likely going to find something that has everything in it that you wanted — it has the location, it has the fit, it has the match and it has the price that fits your pocket book," Baxter said.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.

With files from CBC’s Dave Gilson