Paul Liberatore

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A renter's nightmare: Vancouver's other real estate disaster

So many units, so few vacancies.

 

It is, in the context of Vancouver’s mad open houses of late, a tame event. A half-dozen rental hunters, a modest one-bedroom suite for $1,300 in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, with a closet-sized kitchen from the 1970s and plenty of natural light.
Not, notes the property manager, the typical showing.

“My vacancy is near zero. When I put an ad out, I get 80 responses,” he tells the small group I’ve joined (strictly, thank God, in an observer’s capacity), in a borderline brag.
Like we need the reminder. The cost of buying a home in Vancouver grabs most of the headlines, but it’s an equally dog-eat-dog world out there for renters. “It’s insane,” one woman at the open house tells me. She saw a place at 9 p.m. one night last week, and it was rented by 8 a.m. the next morning. Some landlords expect thousands of dollars in rent on the spot. One apartment she looked at had jumped from $800 a month to $1,300 a month in two years.

Another woman had been away from the city for a year, only to return to the skyrocketing rent prices. “I came home, and I was like, ‘What the hell happened?’”

There’s no time to make a decision, the first woman adds, but you want to make sure you like the place you choose, because God forbid you have to move out any time soon and face another surge in rent.

As a result of all this, the property manager — a soft spoken but chatty man who’s been in the business for decades — says he’s fielding applications for some high-priced condos from the highly unqualified, who are hoping to carry a $2,500 monthly rent with a student loan. “People are applying who can’t afford it. What are you doing here? You can’t afford this!” he says.

Then, among the more qualified, there’s the pressure to pay above-market prices. One Metro colleague spent weeks searching via open houses with dozens of other renters, a.k.a. competitors (he even found himself relieved that one man with a cane would probably be cut from the list). His “happy” ending: He now pays 30 per cent more in rent than he used to, and that’s after he was forced to fork over his first payment a month early, to secure the lease (he’s also renting out his old place on Airbnb to cover his increased monthly expenses).

The story is the same in Victoria. One friend witnessed a guy “who took a zillion applications at an open house and then let the final chosen ones price-bid each other. Makes me want to barf.”

From another renter’s point of view: “Victoria is rife with opportunistic scum.”

 

“I listed my condo in Victoria this month and got over 100 emails,” noted another friend and Victoria landlord. “The market is insane,”

There’s even a Nanaimo rental crunch, and the story of a woman who had to resort to Airbnb listings to find a long-term rental.

Meanwhile, as my colleague Wanyee Li reports today, some are buying condos especially to rent them out on Airbnb. One former condo owner told Metro that she was shocked to find her old unit, which she had sold weeks earlier, listed on Airbnb by someone who had a dozen other properties.

But the chatty property manager at this showing would likely be unsurprised about such a hustle. With all the costs that go along with being a landlord, he says, including unexpected expenses for new building regulations and rising property taxes, with only a fixed 3 or 4 per cent annual rent increase allowed, “you’re not making a profit. That’s a fact.”

“(Rent control is) limiting the revenue, and your expenses are going up. So what do people do? They dump the property.

“Ten or 15 years ago, there was a lot more vacancies downtown because people were buying condos,” he added. Now those once potential buyers have become reluctant renters, pushing up demand, prices, and the sense of desperation.

“Tenants have a sense of entitlement: I deserve to only pay this much rent,” he says.

Some, perhaps. Many would just like rent to cost the 30 per cent of income that affordability experts tell us it should. And while some rents might not be keeping up with the property taxes, neither are many people’s incomes. Landlords might feel stuck by leases, but renters feel stuck with few options. And while being a landlord is a choice, finding a place to live? Not so much. Which is why, if I had to place my sympathies with cash-strapped landlords or cash-strapped renters, I’d find it an easy choice.

The women at the open house agree affordability is a pipe dream, and they — like everyone else — take a three-page rental application. The stove might hail from the disco era, but the bathroom is new, and there’s new wall-to-wall carpet, plus a balcony (next to the dumpster). All in all, for Vancouver, not too shabby.


METRO FILE

So many units, so few vacancies.

Rosemary is in Vancouver all week, reporting on the major issues facing the city. Today: housing.


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