VICTORIA -- The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says Greater Victoria’s rental market grew more expensive last year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.

The average cost of renting an apartment in the region increased by 3.3 per cent to $1,275 per month between 2019 and 2020, according to the federal housing agency’s rental market report released Thursday.

The report authors note the increase was “faster than inflation and the provincially allowable rent increase, resulting in a $356 premium of asking rent for vacant units compared to rent for occupied units.”

Greater Victoria’s vacancy rate also increased from one per cent in 2019 to 2.2 per cent last year, but still remains among the lowest in the country.

The vacancy rates for Canada's three largest metropolitan areas – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – rose to 3.4 per cent, 2.7 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.

The average cost of a Victoria bachelor suite in 2020 was $1,015, with a vacancy rate of 2.1 per cent. The average cost of a one-bedroom suite was $1,185, with a vacancy rate of 2.1 per cent. The average rent on a two-bedroom was $1,507, with a slightly higher vacancy rate of 2.4 per cent.

For three or more bedrooms, Victoria renters could expect to pay on average $1,758 per month, with a vacancy rate of 0.9 per cent.

Last year was the first time Victoria’s overall rental vacancy rate surpassed two per cent since 2013, according to the report.

“Localized rental construction and completions led to little rental universe expansion in most of the municipalities” in Greater Victoria, the report says. “Rental affordability remains a challenge for low-income households looking for suitable and family-friendly unit sizes.”

The report notes that the community of Esquimalt saw the highest rental price increase in the region at 7.5 per cent, but it still maintains the lowest average rental price in the region, “leaving ample room for potential rent increase given its proximity to downtown Victoria and relative affordability.”

The West Shore communities of Langford, Colwood, View Royal and Sooke saw the largest growth in new rental units in 2020, with roughly 1,100 new rentals available. The region also saw the highest average apartment rental cost of $1,499, surpassing all other areas, including downtown Victoria.

The average two-bedroom rent across Canadian cities with more 10,000 people rose 3.6 per cent in 2020 to reach $1,165. The average two-bedroom rent was highest in Vancouver at $1,792, followed by Toronto at $1,635, Ottawa at $1,517 and Victoria at $1,507.