Some Ottawa landlords struggle amid high vacancy rates

OTTAWA — Daniela Mello is a small landlord.

She rents out six units across Ottawa to fund her retirement.  Currently, half of them sit empty. 

“I never had vacancies before,” Mello said. 

Before the pandemic, Mello said her units rarely sat empty between tenants. 

“Days — like five days,” she said. 

Now, it’s been months without a tenant. 

“I’ve had to pull money out of my savings to keep the properties going,” Mello said. 

Data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates Ottawa’s vacancy rate at roughly three to four per cent, about one per cent higher than average. 

According to Ottawa realtors, the vacancies are location specific. 

“There’s definitely a surplus in some areas, but the message we want to get across is it depends on the area and the property type you’re looking for,” Tony Miller said. 

Miller says areas outside of the Greenbelt and even those past the downtown core have already started to rebound. 

In other neighbourhoods, the vacancies are more apparent. 

“One area is Sandy Hill; we notice that there isn’t any students in town, so those units are vacant and a little bit harder to rent.”

Mello has noticed the same phenomenon.

“I have a unit that is fairly close to Algonquin College, but now they’re having online classes so they don’t need to be close to Algonquin,” she noted. 

As a result, some landlords have been forced to drop rent prices. 

“There’s certainly apartments to be rented for less money than they could be rented a year ago, especially in the downtown core,” John Dickie, president of the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations said. 

Mello says she can’t afford to follow their lead. 

“I’m not a big landlord with lots of properties, so if I reduce a lot, that will have lasting impacts for me for the years to come,” she said. 

Dickie doesn’t expect the lower prices to last long-term.

“Rents are coming closer together than they were before and that means the downtown rents have come down a little bit and will stay down for maybe a year or two,” he said. 

Dickie and Miller both agreed the vacancies have been fuelled by the pandemic. With vaccination efforts quickening, there’s hope the rental market will see its own boost. 

“I think we’ll also see, as time goes by, more people filtering back into the downtown, especially as they see the vaccine rollout, as they see life can go back to normal,” Dickie said. 

It is a future Mello hopes will arrive sooner rather than later. 

“We just have to stay strong and keep going and things will eventually go back to some kind of normality,” she said. 

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