Students face booming rental market ahead of return to class in fall

TORONTO – When Meaghan Hines moves into a rental apartment ahead of her fifth year at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, it will be a huge relief.

After months of searching, the biology student thinks she’s finally found somewhere to live in mid-July, but after posting a deposit and signing a lease, she discovers the landlord has taken on too many tenants.

Hines started hunting again, but found the market even hotter, so she settled on an unfurnished place from the same owner that was $100 more a month and further from the school than her last rental.

“I had no choice but to find a place and knowing that all the prices are going to be much higher than usual due to demand, this forced me to take extra shifts”, she said. “It’s quite stressful.”

Hines’ experience is a sign of a booming rental market, coming back to life after the first two years of the pandemic saw landlords slash rents and offer incentives to keep tenants.

Part of the rise is attributable to a rebound in immigration rates and people returning to inner cities for work, as is a drop in home sales and prices that prompted some sellers to rent their properties to the square.

The push coincides with the return to school in September. This means the market is seeing the usual influx of freshmen and seniors swapping homes, but also a surge of people looking for their own homes, having lived with their parents when the pandemic hit and classes were far away.

“Everyone is freaking out signing leases,” Hines said. “(My friend in Waterloo) pays about $980 a month which is absolutely insane, but everyone takes what they can get, even though it’s so expensive.”

Research firm Urbanation recently reported that lower vacancy rates in Toronto in the second quarter pushed average rent to $2,533 with a record $3.57 per square foot, up 5.9% in the second trimester compared to the first.

Rentals.ca found average rents in Canada were $1,934 in July, up 10.4% from last year and just $20 shy of the pre-pandemic high of $1,954 in September 2019.

Renters of one-bedroom units were paying as much as $2,500 in Vancouver last month, 14% more than the previous July, and as low as $836 in Lloydminster, Alberta, a 16% increase from compared to July 2021. In Kitchener, Ont., not far from where Hines is located in Waterloo, the average rent was $1,829, up 23% from last July.

“Rents are skyrocketing,” said Omkaar Kamath, a second-year management engineering student at the University of Waterloo.

He knows students who have been looking for accommodation since May and have not had much luck.

Kamath turned to Facebook groups advertising rentals, but found the ads were picked up within a day of posting.

Although he recently found a friend who will sublet him a place, if that deal falls through, he knows it will be expensive.

“I’m going to have to negotiate even harder for a higher salary or look for a co-op that offers more just because I don’t think I can afford the rent,” he said.

Sawda Jamil Ramisa, a third-year industrial engineering student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, knows these stressors well.

Before securing a rental, she visited at least 12 homes. She found a place for $1,190 a month, but the rent has since been increased by $50.

Her brother, who juggles between classes and a full-time job, often steps in for any amount that Ramisa cannot cover after working 20 hours a week with her school’s student union.

“As I work night shifts, there were times when I was there until 4 a.m. and the next morning again I had to go to school,” she said.

While most students struggle to cover their rent, the market can be even tougher for international students who pay higher tuition and aren’t familiar with the area, said Umme “Mim” Mohsin, who completing a Masters in International Development Studies at Dalhousie University.

She struggled to find a rental last year, when she came from Bangladesh, and has since noticed that other international students face higher rates.

Mohsin was housesitting for a Bangladeshi friend recently, when a letter arrived raising his friend’s rent from $100 to $1,100. Based on that experience, she told a couple coming to Canada for school to expect rent around $1,100, but they found $1,250 to be closer to the norm.

Many students in Canada and abroad look to their parents for help with rent, but others have to shell out money through minimum-wage jobs that have a “huge mental impact”, a she declared.

“We came here to study, but they are not able to fully concentrate because they have so many other worries,” she said.

“They have rent, food and everything is very expensive now with inflation, so as international students we are stuck struggling.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 15, 2022.

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