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Why Montreal rental rates are so lower than rest of the nation?

Couple of quick points from my perspective: Montreal has much more (and older, many are 60+years old buildings) rental stock than Toronto does, plenty of old triplex/4-5-plex buildings in Montreal something not as common in Toronto. Population also grows slower than Toronto too, largely due to the economy (jobs are fewer in Montreal so it attracts fewer people, or people end up leaving Montreal), and language which also restricts growth a little bit. But right now, rents are starting to increase a bit. I just feel that while some people may prefer to move/stay in Toronto, more people (from Toronto) are now willing to give Montreal a try, at least for a year or two (until they move back).
 
Roughly guessing, I would say that basically similar things happened happened in Montreal as did in New York.
  1. Massive supply of housing units is built from around 1900-1950
  2. Supply surpasses demand due to trends (New Yorkers moving into Long Island suburbs due to the decline of the downtown areas, Bill 101 in Quebec placing the city in a 30-year slump in addition to the same trends of suburbanization)
  3. In the case of New York, many Jewish landlords chose to reduce rents and defer maintenance rather demolishing their properties as in many other North American municipalities
  4. This allowed a massive supply of cheap downtown housing to be retained, with rent control moderating the increases
  5. In the case of New York, its reemergence as a global hotspot has filled up that slack, making rents unaffordable. In Montreal, it's more a matter of time IMO as the language boogeyman becomes less relevant- like what you've said, Montreal will be a place for many professionals to try out as they're finding their long-term footing
 
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I just recently moved back after living near the downtown area (about a 10 min drive) by Parc La Fontaine - I was renting from a couple as their first tenet and they owned a really nice bachelor unit (probably 600sq ft. min) in a 27 storey apartment (like the tallest building in the area - it was mostly surrrounded by townhouses and walk ups). I was originally supposed to pay $1550 per month (which compared to Toronto didn't sound bad) but I did end u getting the price down to $1250 (as a lot of the amenities were not available and most local restaurants were closed - but I think the space made up for it and I think the owners understood that their asking price was a bit steep considering the averages near by). I think it really depends on where you pick your stay I could have definitely found a basement apartment for a third what I payed but I knew I would be working from out of that space and living there.
 

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