Toronto’s rental apartment vacancy rate climbed to a 50-year high of 5.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the latest data from real estate company Urbanation.

The record vacancy rate – up 1.1 per cent from the same period a year ago – comes as more people leave Canada’s biggest city for suburbs and smaller towns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Urbanation said the rate is a 50-year high when examining historical CMHC survey data for Toronto back to 1971.  

Meanwhile, Toronto’s average rent for purpose-built units fell 10 per cent year-over-year to $2,337 in the fourth quarter, as average per square foot rents declined 6.2 per cent to $3.49.

By comparison, average rents in the surrounding 905 region dropped only 2.2 per cent to $2,139. Average per square foot rents rose one per cent year-over-year to $2.46.

The majority of rental buildings surveyed continued offering incentives to attract new tenants, including up to two months’ free rent, Urbanation said.

The real estate company added that it expects Toronto’s rental market to improve later this year as vaccinations roll out.

“While rents have a long way to go before returning to their peak and supply will continue to be a headwind in the near-term, some improvement can be expected in 2021 as vaccinations eventually lead to higher immigration and at least a partial return to the office for downtown workers and in-class learning for post-secondary students,” Shaun Hildrebrand, president of Urbanation, said in a release.