Vacancies could be on the rise across Canada because of the government’s shut-off valve to immigrants, short-term rentals becoming long-term, more apartment and condo buildings sprouting up, and COVID-19 caution about moving and buying a home.

But another major uptick in vacancies are students staying home, taking classes online, and leaving landlords to figure out how to fill their units near universities and colleges.

In Ottawa, a recent study by Carleton University’s Centre of Urban Research and Education (CURE) said an increase in vacancy rates in the city’s rental market will likely be caused by a decrease in student population and a decrease in tourism.

In Montreal, Canada’s most active rental market, the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet had any major negative impacts on average rental rates. But now that fall is upon us, and some students are choosing to stay in their respective cities rather than return to campus, there could be a slight shift in Montreal’s rental market.

WHAT TO DO WITH EMPTY APARTMENTS

Many landlords in Montreal are already anticipating the shift and working to find solutions.

Maxim Cordeau-Andrews, customer relations and marketing manager for Akelius Montreal Ltd., says there are a “huge number” of mostly younger, undergraduate students who are not returning to classes this fall leaving empty units.

But, he says, “we’re still seeing an influx of students who are pursuing long-term, postgraduate or continuing studies” involving research or lab work.

“Luckily for us, the universities in Montreal are in desirable neighborhoods,” says Cordeau-Andrews. “The properties that would have once been filled by students are still attractive to young professionals and recent graduates.”

Cordeau-Andrews says “student buildings are attractive to young professionals who are already in the city and may have recently graduated.”

And, he says, “we are accommodating their requests to have shorter or more flexible leases than what we would usually do,” because of all “the uncertainty going on in the world.”

So, Cordeau-Andrews says, “by focusing on this slightly older demographic, units that would usually accommodate students are still being rented out.”

This strategy of shorter leases could open up units when universities decide it’s safe for undergraduate students to return to classes.

Akelius Montreal Ltd. has properties near the major university campuses including Shaughnessy Village near Concordia; the Golden Square Mile near McGill; also in the McGill Ghetto (Milton Park) which is also close to UQAM; and buildings in Côte-Des-Neiges/Outremont near Université de Montréal and HEC.

STUDENT HOUSING WITHOUT THE STUDENTS

In Montreal, universities have had to greatly adjust their plans for the fall 2020 semester. McGill University, Concordia University, and Université de Montréal have almost entirely moved to online learning for an indefinite period of time in hopes of stopping further spread of the virus. However, as classrooms and campuses are becoming vacant, so are a number of the city’s apartment units.

At McGill, almost all classes have been moved online, encouraging students to continue on their academic journey from their homes. With the exception of masters and PhD students, who are able to study in person in small class sizes to complete lab sessions, the majority of McGill students will not be stepping foot on campus this fall.

At Université de Montréal, clinics and laboratories will be held in person, with all other courses being offered online.

Concordia has moved its fall 2020 classes online, with few in person activities being offered in the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Faculty of Fine Arts, and at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. While some classes and activities are being offered in-person at Concordia, they will continue to be available online as well for those who do not wish to be on campus.

With a majority of students planning to stay in their respective cities and countries this fall, university housing programs are having to make adjustments to their housing options.

At McGill, a number of residences — including Douglas Hall, Gardner, Molson and McConnell Hall have been closed. The university has guaranteed all first-year undergraduate students offered admission for the 2020/2021 academic year will have a guaranteed place in residence, even if travel restrictions or other related issues don’t allow them to be in Montreal in the fall.

To ensure safety protocols are followed, all open residences at McGill will follow both the Quebec government and the local health authority’s health and safety guidelines. The university has converted all double rooms to single occupancy, removing the option for students to have roommates.

THE NEW STUDENT HOUSING NORMAL

For Lily Zhang, a residence assistant in New Residence Hall at McGill University, COVID-19 had greatly changed the regular operations of student housing.

“This year, only hotel residences are open, and there are strict guidelines about how many people can be in common spaces,” says Zhang. There’s also social distancing being enforced in dining halls through limited seating. Students have their own rooms and bathrooms, meaning no one has a roommate this year — however, rent is still the same cost.”

Concordia has chosen a different course of action in light of the pandemic. The university has made all of its on-campus housing temporarily unavailable due to COVID-19.

Officials are working to support students in finding off-campus housing by partnering with rental sites.

Many landlords are offering deals to make renting seem more attractive — from free parking, to one month’s rent free, to deferred payments, to discounted rental rates. On Rentals.ca, the average rent for all Canadian properties listed in August was $1,769 per month, down 7.6 per cent annually, indicating that rent could continue to drop in coming months.