Montreal is Canada’s second largest city. It’s also one of the best places in the world to live. Yet somehow it costs half as much to rent an apartment in Montreal than in Toronto or Vancouver. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the average monthly rent in Montreal was $698 last year. Meanwhile, the average rent in Toronto and Vancouver was $1,296. Browsing Montreal room and rental listings is enough to make most North Americans drool. Have you ever wondered why renting in Montreal is so affordable?
The answer to Montreal’s low rent lies in its unique combination of low population growth, one of the highest per capita student populations in North America, old housing stock, a strict rent control board, and well-established renting culture. Time to pack up and move to Montreal? Maybe. But Montreal might not be cheap forever.
Low population growth leads to less rental demand
Canada’s population is growing faster than any other G7 country. But Montreal hasn’t seen the dramatic population growth experienced in other parts of the country. According to the most recent Canadian census, Montreal’s population grew by just 4.2% between 2011 and 2016. At the same time, Calgary’s population grew by 14.6%, Edmonton by 13.9%, Saskatoon by 12.5% and Toronto by 6.2%.
People age 25 to 34 are most likely to leave Quebec
Not only do fewer newcomers migrate to Montreal than other cities, but residents of Quebec often leave. Between 2011 and 2016, seven thousand Quebecois moved to other provinces. The largest net loss was among 25-34 year-olds, who also happen to be the prime renting age bracket. This has a dampening effect on competition for rental units.
The economy and language barrier may both be to blame
The reason for Montreal’s sluggish migration statistics is up for debate. Some say it’s the economy. Montreal has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In the summer of 2015, unemployment in Montreal was 8.9%. Others point to Quebec’s language laws and unique linguistic identity. Many jobs in Montreal require that the employee speak both fluent French and English, and children must attend french-speaking schools. The stats show that more people who speak a language other than French or English chose to leave Quebec than either French or English-speaking residents.
Students stay for a good time but not a long time
The Canadan census also found that those least likely to leave Quebec are people between 20 and 24 years old. Given that the Greater Montréal region has the highest number of university students per capita among all North American cities, it’s easy to understand why. However, most do pursue careers in other cities once their studies are finished. This puts the apartments they once inhabited back on the market for incoming students. The high number of students gives landlords an incentive to maintain a healthy supply of rental properties, while the constant churn of students through the city means that the vacancy rate remains stable.
Rent raises are tied to actual cost increases rather than inflation indices
Quebec uses a unique method of rent control: landlords can raise the rent by any amount they choose, but the tenant must be in full agreement with the increase. To help avoid arguments, Quebec’s rental board, the Régie du logement, provides a handy calculator. According to the Régie, reasonable rent increases are based on things like increased heating costs, property taxes and building repairs. The information required is very detailed and must be made available to the tenant. In 2017, the average tenant paying $700 per month saw their rent go up by $4.20. Compared with other provinces’ method of arbitrarily pegging rent increases to official inflation statistics, it’s not hard to see why Montreal rents remain so reasonable.
Old buildings with few amenities mean lower maintenance fees
Montreal apartments are historic, beautiful and full of character. But they’re often also old and the buildings are relatively small. As of 2017, about 72% of apartment buildings in Montreal contained fewer than 99 rental units. By comparison, only 4.5% of apartment buildings in Toronto are this size. Smaller buildings often don’t have enough stories to require installing an elevator, and usually don’t have amenities like swimming pools and gyms. All the extras that Toronto condo dwellers expect require expensive upkeep that translate into higher rental prices.
But competition for rental apartments in Montreal is heating up
There are signs that Montreal’s rental market is getting more competitive. In 2016, the city’s rental vacancy rate fell from 3.9% to 2.8%, the largest drop in almost 20 years. In its annual report, the CMHC attributed this decline to a recent influx of temporary residents, lower unemployment rates, and the trend for young people to rent for longer as home ownership grows increasingly out of reach.
A new property tax in Montreal will also affect renters
Renters may also see a increase in their rent this year when a new property tax is implemented. The average residential property tax rate in Montreal is going up 3.3% this year, a huge increase to previous years. Landlords will definitely pass on this increase to their tenants.
The rise of remote work could change the rental landscape
The future of work is flexible. More than two-thirds of Canadian employees already do some of their work each week outside the office. And many Millennials are self-employed. The growth of remote working arrangements has the potential to completely change the real-estate landscape. People will be increasingly be able to live where they want rather than where their office is located, taking pressure off housing markets in big cities. It wouldn’t take too many people moving to Montreal to redistribute demand and realize an increase in the cost of renting in Montreal.
The hyperloop could turn Montreal into a commuter city
A route between Montreal and Toronto is being considered for a hyperloop installation. This high speed train would allow one to travel from Montreal to Toronto in just 39 minutes. There are conflicting views on how this could affect rents. Some believe that shorter commute times would encourage people to move to smaller cities and towns along the train’s route, removing some of the competition in Montreal and Toronto’s rental markets. Others think it would drive up the price of living near a station, particularly in the destination cities, pushing lower-income individuals and families toward the outskirts of their city. Either way, a hyperloop connection would have a huge impact on both cities.
The future of renting in Montreal is rosy
Overall, the rental market in Montreal appears to be seeing a bit more competition between potential renters after boosts to the city’s population and economic growth. Whether this is the beginning of a long-term trend or a temporary fluctuation in an otherwise relatively stagnant market remains to be seen, but there is not much cause for worry at present, as Montreal’s reputation as one of the best cities to rent an apartment lives on.
By Magda Golczynski