Market tight for tenants seeking houses or suites to rent

Piano teacher and mum Breena Sulz is so desperate to find a place to live that she now shows tax returns to potential landlords to prove that rent will be ­covered.

She’s been renting the top floor of a Saanich house. But in what has become a familiar story, as housing prices climb, the owner sold it and the buyers are moving in next month.

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When those houses are sold, it further shrinks the supply of rental houses in the capital region.

Sulz has been looking for a place since April for herself and two daughters, ages 10 and 13.

She’s taken on extra work to boost her income to cover a possible higher cost. The suite she rented was $2,500 per month plus utilities. She does early morning paper routes and is a home organizer.

An apartment won’t work for this family. Sulz needs a place where the sound of the pianos (one upright and one digital) will not affect other tenants.

Greater Victoria’s tight housing market makes it difficult to find a house or those seeking a suite in a house. They might have a family and want space for children to run around and play. They might have pets (Sulz does not have pets). They might want a garden.

Competition is fierce.

Sulz has a strict house-­hunting routine. Every morning she’s on the internet checking listings on websites, applying right away. An hour late she repeats that process.

“Because if you’re not on that listing within the first 30 minutes of it going live, you have no chance of getting it.”

She reached one landlord nine minutes after a listing was posted. He said hers was the final application he was accepting because in that time more than 50 had already been submitted.

The market is a “nightmarish-rat race,” she said.

Sarah Angell understands what Sulz is going through. Every couple of years or so for the past decade, Angell and her husband have had to move out of a rental house and find another affordable place to live.

The Greater Victoria rental market is so competitive that pre-school teacher Angell and her husband, a high-tech consultant, relocated to Mill Bay, hoping for more options.

It is a “scary situation” that there are so few middle-income rental properties, Angell said. “It’s a nightmare.”

“My husband and I are both working professionals with pets who can afford a reasonable amount of rent and we are left with no choice but to beg for a house rental through online classified ads.”

They finally found a cottage through a mutual friend for $2,000 per month, she said.

Every move brings a financial hit, she said. The new place requires a dog run. Along with their dog, they have three indoor cats.

Retired couple Skip Dean and Denbigh Atack Dean, who have a small dog, sold their Toronto-area home to move here. They’ve discovered “it’s a tough go,” to find a two-to-three bedroom house with a garage in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.

The overall vacancy rate for purpose-built rental apartments in 2020 in Greater Victoria was 2.2 per cent, loosening from one per cent in 2019 as supply increased, said the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Dave Hutniak, Landlord B.C. chief executive, said, the organization does not keep data on the number of houses or suites in houses for rent.

He has heard from members who decided to take advantage of the rising housing market. “For some of them, they’re just not sure how much longer this can keep going up.”

The benchmark price for a single-family home in the core of Greater Victoria was just over $1 million last month.

The pandemic has made it difficult in terms of maintaining tenancies, collecting rents and a freeze on increases, he said. Some members decided they did not want to be landlords any more.

There’s a shortage of rental properties across the rental universe in the capital region, Hutniak said.

B.C.’s housing crisis is recognized by province government as it focuses on addressing a wide range of housing needs. This includes finding homes for people who have been unhoused, creating supportive housing, helping with rental assistance in the private market and fostering home ownership.

The province announced in April it was designating $2 billion in development financing for construction of thousands of new homes for middle-income families.

As of July 1, provincial residential tenancy changes came into effect, focused on ending renovictions and giving renters more security and protection. Landlords planning a renovation must now apply to the residential tenancy branch for pre-approval.

The provincial rent freeze imposed because of the pandemic runs until the end of the year.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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