OTTAWA  - The value of Canadian building permits unexpectedly declined in March for the second month in a row as there were fewer plans to build apartments in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, data from Statistics Canada showed on Tuesday.

Permits fell 5.8 per cent, far short of economists' expectations for a gain of 5.5 per cent. The statistics agency revised February's figures down slightly to a decline of 2.8 per cent from the initially reported decrease of 2.5 per cent.

Residential building permits slumped 8.4 per cent due to a 20.9 per cent drop in construction plans for multifamily buildings, which include apartments, condominiums and townhouses. The biggest declines were in Ontario and British Columbia, which have both had strong housing markets.

By contrast, plans to build single-family homes increased 3.0 percent, led by Ontario. A lack of supply has been partly blamed for the surge in home prices in Toronto.

Nationally, non-residential permits slipped 0.5 per cent on a decline for commercial buildings.

Total building permits were up 7.3 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, with gains for both single-family and multifamily residences.