Metro Vancouver apartment vacancy rate edges up

VANCOUVER – Metro Vancouver’s apartment vacancy rate edged up to 2.2 per cent in the spring more or less in step with most markets in British Columbia and Canada that saw higher apartment availability, a new report from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said.

The increase, compared with 2.1 per cent last fall, represented opposing forces of higher levels of first-time home ownership and job cuts during the recession resulting in young tenants doubling up or moving back home. Both trends helped take renters out of the market, according to, Robyn Adamache, CMHC’s market analyst for Metro Vancouver.

Adamache added that an increase in the supply of rental housing — 2009 saw 915 new rental units added to the overall stock — also helped raise the vacancy rate.

And for Metro Vancouver, the rate is a far cry from recent years when apartment vacancy slipped below one per cent.

“I would hesitate to call it balanced, because we don’t have a measure of what is a balanced rental market,” Adamache said in an interview.

“[However,] I would call it healthy. There is some choice out there for renters, but then it’s not too hard for landlords to rent out their suites.”

The last time Metro Vancouver saw a vacancy rate higher than two per cent, Adamache added, was in 1998/99 when the region’s vacancy hit 2.7 per cent. In the spring of 2008, Metro Vancouver’s apartment vacancy rate was 0.9 per cent.

For apartment owners, the shift in vacancies has meant more aggressive advertising and creativity in attracting tenants.

“There’s a lot less calls coming in, “Debbie Johnson, director of marketing for Gateway Property Management, said.

One of Gateway’s creative responses to the situation, Johnson added, is an online tool called “vacancy-tracker,” which tenants can sign on to and receive e-mail notices about suites that become available in Gateway buildings.

“We’re just trying to get out there and say ‘we’re here, we have suites to rent, come to us.'”

Adamache added that the rise in vacancies has helped keep rent increases in check, with payments in Metro Vancouver edging up 2.3 per cent over a year ago, which is on the mark with the province’s cap on annual rent increases.

Vacancy rates varied depending on apartment types, with the three-bedroom category experiencing the lowest rate at 1.4 per cent and one-bedroom suites having the highest vacancy at 2.4 per cent.

Three-bedroom suites also saw the steepest increases in average rent hitting $1,401 this spring compared with $1,268 in April a year ago.

The average two-bedroom rent across Metro Vancouver was marginally down at $1.150 this spring compared with $1,154 a year ago.

The CMHC spring survey was conducted in April as an interim measure of apartment vacancy between its more detailed major vacancy surveys, which are conducted in the fall of each year.

This year’s spring report counted vacancy increases in most markets, Carol Frketich, CMHC’s regional economist said in a news release. Overall provincial vacancy hit 3.1 per cent in April compared with 2.3 per cent a year ago.

However, while it might be easier for renters to find accommodation, the high price of rents remains a problem, according to a tenants rights group.

“I think businesses should be concerned,” Tom Durning, a spokesman for Vancouver’s Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre said in an interview. “If rents keep going up, they’re not going to be able to attract people here.”

Source: The Vancouver Sun

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