With rents on the rise across Canada, some people are priced in

For months, Nathan Armstrong has been browsing apartment listings from a small motel room in Woodstock, Ont. He and his wife had to live there for over a year because they were desperately looking for a place to rent.

“There isn’t much, and it seems to go up. Fifteen, seventeen, and nine hundred dollars for a one-bedroom apartment,” he said. “Our price range is disappearing.”

Armstrong described the situation as frustrating and costly. The couple couldn’t even prepare their own meals at the hotel.

“It’s very, very difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to cook because we’re not allowed to use our own cooking materials. There’s no toaster oven, it’s against fire law.”

The couple say they’ve faced one denial after another, losing dozens of apartments amid fierce competition during their 16-month search for stable housing.

Rents are already rising rapidly in the area, according to a recent report by Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research and Consulting. Average apartment rents for the nearest major city – London, Ontario. It jumped to $1,933 in June, up 28.5 percent from the same period last year.

Watch | How Canadians are priced from rental housing:

Soaring rents are costing some Canadians

Some Canadians find themselves at increasingly lower prices as the cost of rent rises across the country.

Some analysts predict that the rental market may get hotter across Canada.

Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research & Consulting, a real estate advisory firm, says higher interest rates are pushing potential homebuyers to the sidelines, putting more pressure on the rental market.

“These two factors will keep tenants in their properties, reducing the supply of rents,” Myers said.

The supply of rents has also been an ongoing problem in Halifax. There, the vacancy rate is less than one percent, among the lowest in the country, according to Mortgage and Housing Canada.

“We have new construction and existing construction work, but they can’t keep up with the pace of the number of people looking for rental units,” said Leslie Dunn, director of the RentersEd program, which educates Canadians about rent.

Rental prices are rising across Canada

She says low-income families are priced quickly with rents increasing faster than people’s salaries. Dunn says the rental market is so hot that it puts unfair pressure on applicants.

“Now you are required to pay three months’ rent before an apartment can be considered,” Dunn said. “This is devastating.”

“For most newcomers, for most young people, for most homeless people, and for most fixed-income people, there is absolutely no way they can afford it.”

The market is tight for renters in the biggest cities too, as they are more expensive. The highest median apartment rents in Canada are in Vancouver, at $2,936 a month, which is nearly 25 percent higher than it was a year ago, according to Rentals.ca. In Toronto, the median price of apartments is $2,463 a month, up nearly 20 percent year over year. Experts have pointed to the decades-long decline in rental housing construction, known as purpose-built rents, as another reason behind supply issues.

Murtaza Haider, professor of management at Toronto Metropolitan University, says purpose-built rentals offer more rental stability than condominiums, as investment-focused landlords are more likely to pull their properties out of the rental market to sell whenever they feel the time is really right.

“Purpose-built rentals provide security of tenure because you know this is a rental property and it will remain as a rental for them for now,” he said.

“The government has a big role to play.”

Haider wants all levels of government to work together to encourage more construction.

“The government has a big role to play. They can motivate builders in this market by changing the playing field… in favor of building more purpose-built rentals,” he said. “The motivation is not to wait 50 years or even five more years and start making those changes.”

After 16 long months, Armstrong says he and his wife have finally found a place to call home.

A man sitting looking at the camera.
Nathan Armstrong and his wife lived in a motel in Woodstock, Ont., for over a year because they couldn’t find an affordable apartment. (Rob Karbavac/CBC)

“It feels great. A kitchen to cook with to help save money on food costs, especially now with the price of everything going up,” he said.

He hopes the rental market will improve for others who are just beginning their search.

“It shouldn’t have taken more than a year to finally get a permanent place to live,” he said.

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