Renters and roommates – What’s changed?

Do you rent your home? If so, you’re not alone. Approximately 30% of Canadians rent their homes, and many of them share their home with roommates.

Square One conducted a study to better understand why renters choose to live with roommates and if they are properly protecting their belongings and liabilities with tenant insurance.

Continue reading to see the results.

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Renters and roommates in Canada

2020 Roommates and renters of Canada study by Square One

A note from the Square One CEO, Daniel Mirkovic:

“There is a large and growing population of renters in Canada. This group is continuing to grow due to many factors, one being the rising costs of homeownership in major cities.

We surveyed over 5000 Canadians to find out more information about renter lifestyles and to see if the rental landscape has changed.”


Key study findings and information

After surveying thousands of Canadians on their living and roommate situations, we found some interesting statistics. Combined with data from Statistics Canada and other third parties like The Canadian Rental Housing Index, we found several important insights about renters and roommates in Canada.

Over 53% of renters need help with rent payments

A major trend we identified in 2017 was renters looking for roommates to help afford rent payments. This reason for living with a roommate increased by approximately 10% from 2017 to 2020. This suggests that incomes are stagnant while rental prices are increasing.

Renters with roommates increased by 9% in 2019

From 2018 to 2019, there was a 9% increase in the number of renters who live with roommates across BC, Alberta and Ontario. There are many factors contributing to this, and an increase in rental prices is a major factor among them.

Renters holding tenant insurance increased by 6.5%

Compared to our 2017 study, about 6.5% more renters have insurance in the three major surveyed provinces (BC, Alberta and Ontario). This could be because more landlords are requiring tenant insurance or because more tenants are seeing the importance of protecting their belongings and liability.

What percentage of renters have roommates?

Across BC, Alberta and Ontario, the share of renters who have roommates has fluctuated between 15% and 30%. However, from 2018 to 2019, we saw increases in renters with roommates ranging from 5% to 10% in all three provinces. Each province has more renters with roommates than they did three years ago.

Province 2017 2018 2019
British Columbia 19% 16% 24%
Alberta 23% 17% 24%
Ontario 20% 16% 26%

Breakdown by major city in Canada

Cities in Ontario saw the largest increases in renters with roommates, at around 10%. Cities in Alberta saw the lowest increases of the major cities.

City 2017 2018 2019
Vancouver 23% 18% 28%
Calgary 21% 18% 25%
Edmonton 24% 16% 23%
Hamilton 15% 14% 24%
Toronto 25% 22% 33%
Ottawa 27% 20% 32%
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Why do renters have roommates?

Breakdown by province: 2020

We wanted to see if province-specific housing affordability issues cause renters to look for roommates to live with to help them save money and deal with increasing rental prices.

In BC and Ontario, where we see the highest rental unit prices, more renters specify that they did choose a roommate to help with rent. In provinces where rental prices are not as high, people tend to live with roommates for companionship.

2017 versus 2020

We wanted to see if, compared to the 2017 study, the changing rental market has changed renters’ reasons to live with roommates. Help with rent as a stated reason grew significantly, as did the need for companionship. Conversely, renters are less concerned about getting a roommate for the added security of someone being home.

Reason 2017 2020
Help with rent 63% 53%
Companionship 25% 27%
Added security 7% 20%
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Reasons for getting a roommate change with age

Renters who look for a roommate to help pay for rent is consistent across most age groups, though it becomes less of a contributor for those in the 55+ range.

55+ renters are looking for companionship and company when renting.

The share of renters who choose to live with a roommate for added security remains largely consistent at around 20%.

Reason 18-34 35-54 55+
Help with rent 54% 57% 52%
Companionship 28% 22% 27%
Added security 18% 21% 21%
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Average household income for renters by province

Square One pulled average household income for renters from Statistics Canada to see how average household income may affect why renters get a roommate.

Alberta has the highest average income level, but 50% of renters still need help paying rent. Saskatchewan has both the lowest average household income and the lowest percentage of renters with roommates that need help with rental payments.

Source: Statistics Canada
Province Avg. income
British Columbia $63,926
Alberta $72,312
Saskatchewan $48,134
Manitoba $52,739
Ontario $57,624
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Percentage of renters without renters insurance

“With the high cost of rent, it makes sense that most renters have roommates for financial reasons,” says Mirkovic. “However, it’s surprising how many renters and their roommates go without home insurance given the increased risks of living with unrelated persons.”

Although increasing rental costs are putting more pressure on Canadian renters, they are more likely to buy insurance than they were in 2017.

2017 2020
Canada 41% 34.5%

Common misconceptions that renters have about home insurance

In Square One’s experience, renters have three common misconceptions about home insurance:

Landlord’s insurance protects renters

Landlord’s insurance specifically excludes the personal property and liability exposures of renters. Accordingly, renters need a home insurance policy to protect their belongings, to cover extra living expenses if their homes are damaged and can’t be occupied, and to pay damages for unintentionally injuring someone else.

Home insurance is too expensive for renters

Policies can start from as little as $12 a month. Most insurance providers offer both annual and monthly payment options. To help reduce costs even further, renters can increase the standard policy deductible. A deductible is the amount the renter must pay before the policy will respond.

Those living with unrelated roommates can expect to pay a little more for the added exposure. Most insurers charge an extra 10%, which isn’t much on a $12-a-month policy. They can also expect their insurer to assess a $2,500 deductible for crime-related losses. That means paying the first $2,500 if their belongings are stolen or mysteriously disappear.

It’s difficult for renters to get home insurance

This misconception does have some truth to it. Many renters, especially those living with roommates, may have had difficulty getting home insurance. In recent years, providers like Square One are actively offering insurance to renters. Renters are encouraged to shop around to find a policy that works for them.

Getting the right home insurance, while essential, is just one piece of the puzzle. With a substantial pool of roommates to choose from, it’s more important than ever to exercise due diligence when finding and selecting a roommate.

When applying for home insurance, be prepared to state how many roommates you have. If you have just one roommate, you can often both be insured under a single policy. If you have multiple roommates, then each of you will need to purchase separate policies. It’s also important to describe your relationship with each roommate. While you may consider a sibling or partner to be your roommate, the insurance provider may classify them as a family member. Most policies automatically cover family members at no extra cost.