Calgary vacancy rate nearly quadruples but average rents remain high

Once a landlord's paradise, Calgary's rental-housing market has become a tenant's dream — at least when it comes to what's available.

Rental availability rate surges to 5.3% in October, up from 1.4% just a year earlier

Calgary's vacancy increased nearly fourfold in the span of a year, while average rents were actually up slightly during the same period. (CBC)

Once a landlord's paradise, Calgary's rental-housing market has become a tenant's dream — at least when it comes to what's available.

The city's vacancy rate has nearly quadrupled in the span of just one year, according to the fall Rental Market Survey from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Average rents, however, actually edged up slightly and remain the second-highest in Canada, behind only Vancouver.

Calgary's vacancy rate stood at 5.3 per cent in October, according to the survey, up from 1.4 per cent in fall 2014.

That put Calgary above the national average of 3.3 per cent, which was also up from last year but not as significantly.

"It's quite a dramatic increase to this year over last," said Gerry Baxter, executive director of the Calgary Residential Rental Association. "No doubt about it, it's Alberta's economy. Many people, particularly those in  the oilpatch, were here from other provinces and many of them have returned home looking for employment because the prospects here were fairly bleak."

Among the country's 35 largest urban centres, the average vacancy rate in privately initiated, purpose-built rental apartments stood at 2.8 per cent in October 2014, according to the CMHC.

"The rise in the national vacancy rate was due to lower net migration in regions most affected by low oil prices as well as an increase in the supply of purpose-built rental apartment units," chief economist Bob Dugan said in a release.

Rents still high

Despite the surge in available units, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary actually reached $1,332 in the fall report, up $10 from the previous year. The average rent for a two-bedroom condo is $1,500. 

Condos are generally newer and have more amenities so they command higher rents, says Baxter. Still, he adds, the average apartment rent hasn`t changed much from last year. 

Only Vancouver, at $1,360, had a higher average rent. The national average was $960.

"A year ago at this time, the economy was just starting to show signs of starting to decline," said Baxter. "In Alberta, rents can only be increased once a year,… so my best guess that is the economy was only showing some slight moderations. Many of the rents were increased in the fall (of 2014) or in the early part of this year. Now many are starting to lower their rents and offering some form of  an incentive to attract people."

It's clearly a renter's market, says Baxter.

"It's an ideal time for someone whose lease is coming up. If they're not happy they can move on."

Christy Hennessy, 23, who lives in the Okanagan, is currently looking online for an apartment in Calgary. She's seeing at least 40 vacancies a day. Ancedotally, she's encountered landlords asking for two-year leases. 

"I don't like to say this but they almost seem desperate to get people in."


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