The nation’s homeowner housing vacancy rates declined in the first quarter as supply conditions in the rental sector tighten and the proportion of families in tenancy reached a 15-year high.

Rental vacancies dipped to 8.8% in the quarter, 0.9% lower than a year earlier and 0.6% below the previous quarter, according to the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau. The homeownership vacancy rate stands at 2.2% in the period, down 0.4% from a year earlier and 0.1% from the fourth quarter of 2011.

Some 34.6% of families rented their home in the first quarter, increasing from 34% at the end of 2011.

Because the housing recovery is driven by investors and cash buyers acquiring homes to rent out, the nation’s rise in rental rates continues, analysts at Capital Economics said.

“We think that the rental rate may rise slightly further yet, with the necessary flipside being that fewer households will own their own home,” analysts said. “This is positive for landlords, whose rental yields are approaching 6%.”

The bureau reported a national homeownership rate of 65.4% in the first quarter, falling 1% from the year-ago figure and 0.6% from the previous quarter.

Among regions, the rental vacancy rate was the highest in the South at 10.8% and lowest in the West at 6.3%. The Northeast was the only region to experience an annual rise in its vacancy rate in the first quarter, ascending from 6.8% to 7.8%..

For rental housing by area, vacancies inside principle cities (8.8%), in the suburbs (8.7%) and outside metropolitan statistical areas (9.2%) were not statistically different from each other.

“We expect strong demand and constrained supply to contribute to rental inflation of 3% or so in 2012, and for landlords’ rental yields to improve to 5.75%,” Capital Economics analysts said. “That would comfortably beat the yields available on Treasurys.”

jhilley@housingwire.com

@JustinHilley

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