1 out of 4 apartments in Estevan vacant

In Estevan and Lloydminster, Sask., one out of every four rental apartments is sitting empty.

Estevan's vacancy rate is 27.6 per cent, up from 20.8 per cent last fall, according to figures released this week by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). 

Lloydminster's vacancy rate has increased to 25.4 per cent from 13.6 per cent last fall.

And at 10.6 per cent rental vacancy, CMHC said Saskatoon now has the highest rate of empty apartments of any major Canadian city.

Resource sector jobs disappearing

"In some areas, particularly those that are directly linked to the oil and gas industry, we have seen some weakness in the economic base," said CMHC senior analyst Goodson Mwale.

Saskatchewan's overall apartment vacancy rate is 9.4 per cent.

Mwale said immigrants boost rental numbers, but their business is outweighed by the number of workers who have left Saskatchewan for other provinces.

He also noted new construction of rental units and condominiums has bumped up the number of available suites in Saskatoon. Plus, more people are looking toward home ownership.​

Mwale said CMHC expects commodity prices to rebound in the next few years and is forecasting a return to more balanced conditions by 2017.

Landlords 'have to be a little more creative'

Tom McClocklin, managing director for Colliers International in Saskatchewan, said Saskatoon's apartment complexes dating back to the 1960s and 1970s will be the hardest for landlords to fill.

"From a landlord perspective, you have to be a little more creative in keeping your buildings full," said McClocklin. "If you're looking for rental accommodation there's probably never been more selection and more opportunity."

Some property management companies in Saskatoon are offering gift cards, free rent or lower security deposits to entice tenants to sign leases.

Average rent in the city, however, has dropped by only 0.9 per cent over the past year.

"You may see some [rent] declines in older buildings as an incentive," said McClocklin. "But not significantly yet; it's more of a holding the line at this point in time."

McClocklin added: "A few years ago one of the biggest concerns in Saskatoon was the lack of new rental accommodation, so I think the market will catch up to itself. It might just take a year or two."