Storage unit employees in Canada’s capital region say they have seen a ‘huge demand’ for self-storage units, a trend that coincides with the prevalence of smaller and smaller condo units.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) reports there were 4.2 million square feet of storage added in Ontario over the three-year period ending in 2023, a rise of 11 per cent. 

Ottawa ranks second in the total number of self-storage square footage in Ontario with over 3-million-square-feet of units. The MPAC data shows that among the total of 19 million square feet of self-storage in Ontario, Toronto occupies 43.3 per cent, Ottawa 15.9 per cent and Mississauga 10.9 per cent.

Cael Gédéron, a U-Haul employee at the company's Coventry Road location, says people use storage for a variety of needs. 

“Most of our clients are people who are downsizing, moving, renting a truck to help with moving or [general] contractors who do painting and construction work,” he said.

Gédéron said his location has often seen low storage vacancies since February. As a result, U-Haul offers some alternatives, including renting trucks, trailers and containers. He added people tend to rent storage units for two to three months on average.

According to a Self Stor Storage executive, shrinking condo sizes is a key factor driving the popularity of the storage market.

"The decreasing condo size is the biggest new factor for the popularity of self-storage in our market,” Matthew Midgley, Self Stor’s Director of Operations and Construction, told Urban Toronto. “People simply do not have the space to keep all their belongings. However, renovation, travel, retirement, and student storage needs have all been on a sharp increase over the past few years.”

MPAC says the average size of a condo built in 2017 dropped between 20 and 45 per cent compared with a condo built in the 1990s in Ontario's major urban centres. In Ottawa, for example, the average size of a condo built in 2017 was 891 square feet, compared with 1,104 square feet in the 1990s. 

As condominium spaces shrink, residents with smaller living spaces may turn to self-storage. In Canada, one in 10 people are using storage units nation-wide, according to the the report.

Self-storage consultant Ryan Mantha said he's also seen a lot of demand for renting storage units. Mantha, who has worked for Dymon Storage in Ottawa since April 2022, uses a storage unit to store his personal and parents’ stuff for the long term.

Mantha said, based on his personal experience, many storage units are subject to rent increases yearly to meet demand.

“Inflation in general is one of the driving factors,” he said. “Unfortunately, some people who own and work from home are being forced to downsize when they can’t keep up their real payments.”

The storage industry in Canada generated  $7.3 billion in gross revenue this year, according to a report from IBIS World, which noted that revenue has seen a large increase since 2012.

Local businesses drive demand

Mantha says local businesses are also helping to drive demand. He said his most common clients are local business owners. 

He said local business owners want an “organized space” in their homes and workspaces because of the pandemic which had them staying and working at home full-time. They would use storage units as offices and spaces for inventories. 

“We see a lot of businesses as they grow, go from smaller to bigger units,” Said Mantha. “We like to see businesses grow, especially local businesses since we [Dymon Storage] were actually founded in Ottawa, we like helping out businesses that work with us very closely.”

Mantha says he appreciates the interactions he has working in self-storage. 

“You get to meet a lot of different guests because storage brings in characters from all different backgrounds,” said Mantha. “Whether it’s business, personal, residential.”

Allan Mertick works as a home renovator and has been a business owner for 35 years. He’s been renting a storage unit from Just Right Self Storage for more than 12 years since he moved from a house with a garage to a condo in the city.

“I would say it's about 50-50,” said Mertick. “I see individual people but I also see a lot of small business or side business type of people who are renting space.” 

The business owner said he upgraded his storage space from a ten-by-ten to a ten-by-twenty to store his tools and machinery like lumber, paint, electrical supplies, plumbing supplies, heating and ducting supplies. Mertick said his storage unit is convenient for his job since it is climate-controlled and he could not fit all his tools in his van. But he said the convenience also has a down-side.

“Once you get stuff in the self-storage, it pretty much stays there and you end up paying a monthly fee because it requires work to empty that storage unit,” he said.