Property managers are seeing a jump in demand for rental units on the Sunshine Coast since the start of the pandemic, while evictions also appear to be on the rise.
“The last few months have seen the tightest rental market I have seen in 15 years,” Adam Major, managing broker with Holywell Properties, told Coast Reporter.
More vacancies usually pop up heading into winter, said Major, but in early November Holywell only had four listings “and they are renting quickly.”
A new purpose-built rental development in Port Stalashen already has a waiting list half as long as the 46 units that will be available starting December.
“We had an advertising plan but we didn’t have to spend any money,” said Lauren Dearing of Maycon Construction Management. As soon as they post on social media, “we have a lot of inquires,” she said.
Jason Ruck, property manager for Remax City Realty in Gibsons, said since COVID-19 public restrictions began, demand for rentals has grown. He’s fielding calls from people wanting to leave the Lower Mainland, as well as from investors interested in rental price estimates.
Rental demand is strong for “big houses, one-bedroom suites and everything in between,” said Ruck.
As the rental market tightens, evictions appear to be on the rise.
Community legal advocate Ken Carson, who works out of the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre, said since about July he has dealt with five evictions notices, compared with zero over the previous 18 months.
“That’s a definite trend,” he told Coast Reporter.
The evictions he’s seeing are legal notices that allow landlords or new property owners or close family members to occupy the rental unit.
Carson speculates properties may be changing hands due to a “mini real-estate boom” on the Sunshine Coast, which is pushing out tenants.
“The two-month notice is seemingly becoming quite common because properties are being sold on the Coast that had been previously rentals,” he said.
Residential real estate sales shot up to 139 in October, making it the busiest sales month on the Sunshine Coast since May 2016, and the fourth busiest in the past decade, according to Major, who operates a real estate analysis website. The nine-year average for the month is 61.
In September, year-over-year sales increased on the Sunshine Coast by about 118 per cent, the second highest increase in Metro Vancouver after Tsawwassen, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
Major links the demand for housing to a “COVID exodus” of city dwellers flocking to the Sunshine Coast, but rental apartments in particular were already scarce before the pandemic – and expensive.
About 29 per cent of renters on the Sunshine Coast spend more than half their income on housing costs, described as a “crisis level of spending” by the authors of the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index. The municipality of Sechelt ranked third in Canada for residents spending that much on rent.
An affordable housing report released in October identified rental housing as a key area of need. As of 2016, about 1,175 people were living in unacceptable conditions and “cannot afford an acceptable alternative housing unit in their community based on median rents.” The cost of rent has shot up 40 per cent in rural areas over the past four years and has nearly doubled in Gibsons and Sechelt.
Sunshine Coast Community Services, meanwhile, has seen an increase in the number of seniors and vulnerable adults seeking assistance with housing-related issues, according to manager Carey Rumba.
Signs of the crunch are obvious on Facebook and Craigslist, where pictures of brightly smiling couples and families adjoin wanted classifieds for places to rent. But those smiles hide a grim situation.
With so few options, renters must rely on luck and the good graces of landlords.
One family of five, for example, was facing the need to relocate before next summer after their landlords said they planned to sell their Davis Bay home. “[The] concern became instantly, [there’s] nowhere for us to move,” said Kim Bersanti.
With pets, an aging mother and two children with complex needs, Bersanti and her partner are trying another option.
After their landlords agreed to delay listing the house they’ve put a call out to the community to raise money for a down payment. It seemed more realistic than finding an affordable place to rent.
“We’re extremely lucky,” said Bersanti.
– with files from Sean Eckford