Evolving Vancouver’s Rental Market: Part 1

A rental apartment in Vancouver is predictable in its form. If it’s not in a three-story walk-up, it’s probably a suite within a multi-unit heritage home, maybe a high-rise apartment in the West End. Or perhaps – in what has become increasingly common over the past 20 years – it’s an investor-owned condo.

Another common theme is how increasingly hard it is to find a vacant rental apartment in Vancouver and rents are climbing. Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate has been persistently hovering below 1% while a healthy vacancy rate should sit up around 3%. Leaving a major gap to be filled in the rental housing supply.

And with an anticipated increase of 1 million people to the region over the next 30 years, the need for more housing isn’t going away.

Renters are faced with a number of challenges beyond higher rents, there’s the instability of occupying someone else’s condo and the substantial repairs of an aging building. It’s time to contribute in a meaningful way and give renters more choice.

With the very recent resurgence of purpose-built rental projects, there is light at the end of the tunnel.


Purpose-built rental provides more stability for renters. Today many rental units are individually-owned condos. These owners can return to their units, on short notice, leaving tenants in a lurch. Alternatively, tenants living in a purpose-built rental cannot be evicted for the landlord’s use. The Residential Tenancy Act also protects tenants and makes it difficult to evict for the owner’s benefit.


When availability is low, sharing a home isn’t out of the question. The financial benefits are also hard to ignore. Another significant challenge when a condo becomes a rental is that they were not designed for roommates. Condos have a bedroom hierarchy where bedrooms vary dramatically in size. A three-bedroom home has one large master with an ensuite, a smaller second bedroom, and an even smaller third bedroom neither of which have their own bathroom. Try sharing that equally between three people. 

With a purpose-built rental, units can be designed more equitably with sharing in mind. What if each bedroom was equal in size with their own bathroom?


With over 63% of Vancouver’s existing purpose-built rental stock constructed between 1950 and 1980, most units in the market are designed with an outdated design mentality, not meant for the diverse living arrangements we now see. 

Millennials are one of Vancouver’s largest renter groups. Their inclination towards connectivity and meaningful urban experiences are challenging previous rental typologies and driving a shift towards vibrant more community-focused projects.  

Much of the current rental stock is generic. Suites have been designed to attract the widest range of users leading to lackluster design and underwhelming functionality. We believe purpose-built rental projects can afford to take design risks, leading to more vibrant neighbourhoods and opportunities for businesses and residents in the neighbourhood.

Preliminary concept of activated commercial and streetview by Yamamoto Architecture, for 810 Kingsway.

Condos can no longer be the status quo for Vancouver’s rental market. We have the chance to address the evolving needs of modern urbanites who are choosing to rent. Imagine what opportunities lie ahead when we build for our communities.

In our next Thinking article we’ll explore how purpose-built rental projects can challenge people’s perceptions of what renting can be. We’ll dive into how building with intention enhances the social fabric of the neighbourhood.