More places for rent in Whistler but prices are up 

As the Olympics near, renters are having a harder time securing long term leases

Only six weeks into his search for a new place, Dan Piper has already noticed the rental market in Whistler is remarkably different from the one he encountered last fall.

At that time, places were being snapped up so quickly that Piper and his wife tackled their accommodation search like a full-time job for 10 weeks.

Now, they do not feel the need to look as hard because more places are up for rent. But they are finding that prices are higher than before and securing a lease through the Olympics is challenging.

"There is a lot of stuff out there, but it is just really expensive," said the Brewhouse employee. The average rate he is seeing for one-bedroom places with a one-year lease is $1,600 per month.

"A lot of the leases have been conditional, as in it is a long term lease but you have to be out for two weeks over the Olympics... And I would say probably 70 to 80 per cent of the places we have looked into have had leases that expire on Nov. 1."

Piper is not alone in his observations about Whistler's rental housing situation this spring.

According to statistics collected by the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), about 40 per cent more unrestricted rental units were advertised this March in Pique Newsmagazine and The Question compared to March 2008. (Specifically, 183 units were listed for rent in the first three weeks of March this year compared to 129 last year.)

But prices are also up for everything from studio suites to multi-bed units and single-family homes.

For example the average advertised price for a studio this year was $1,422 a month compared to $1,096 last year.

Likewise a one-bedroom was advertised at $1,501 compared to $1,275 last year; a two-bedroom at $2,310 compared to $1,887; a three-bedroom at $3,989 compared to $3,070 and a single family home at $4,393 compared to $3,609.

Marla Zucht, general manager of the WHA, said she was cautious to speculate about why inventory is freeing up, but said perhaps people are leaving town earlier this year because of the economic slowdown and recent layoffs in Whistler.

She added, though: "Certainly we are still hearing people are out there looking for accommodation, so by no means do I think it has eased up.

"And we have not seen the turnover in our WHA inventory. Our vacancy level is still zero for what is available."

Also, Piper's difficulty finding a lease through the Olympics is common in today's unrestricted rental market, said Zucht.

"We have heard from people coming in that they can find places typically up to about November and December for 2009, if they can find a place," she said.

"We are definitely hearing a lot of landlords right now may want to keep the units available or open for rent through the Olympics."

At Whistler Blackcomb, staff housing has traditionally been full through the winter. But that wasn't the case this past winter.

"We had, for the first time in my history here, more beds than people," said Brian Good, who has worked for Whistler Blackcomb for seven years.

"Our occupancy was 98 per cent, which is still exceptional. We had 1,390 beds and our average occupancy was about 1,285."

As far as the Olympics go, Good said Whistler Blackcomb's staff housing will continue as normal.

He added, though, that since Whistler Blackcomb plans to hire fewer people next year, some staff housing spaces will be offered to returning staff.

But not everyone is seeing more rental inventory in town.

Gord Low, from Mountain Country Property Management, said his company's rental inventory has "not increased" this year.

"We have found most current tenants are holding onto their property where possible to ensure they have a property through the Olympics.

"We had anticipated abandonments this spring due to the many layoffs that have occurred, but surprisingly that has not happened."

He added that a majority of their landlords are renting their property through the Olympics.

"We have very few property owners who wish to utilize their property during the Olympics," said Low.

Know your rights as a tenant

As the Olympics near and landlords may be tempted to use their rental property in February 2010, renters may want to review their rights.

Information is available at: www.tenants.bc.ca.

According to Tom Durning from the Tenants Rights Action Coalition, if you have signed a lease that expires at a specific date, you are probably bound to that. But, if you don't have a lease, or your lease does not state when you have to leave, your landlord can only kick you out if they have immediate family moving in or they are undergoing renovations.

The act defines immediate family as "mother, father, son or daughter." And Durning added that if your landlord is doing renovations, you should make sure they have the proper permits in place.

Also, the WHA is administering an e-mail service for renters who are worried their landlords are applying for a Temporary Commercial Use Permit (TCUP) for the Games at 2010 at renters@whistler.ca . Background on TCUPs can also be found on the Whistler Housing Authority website, www.whistlerhousing.ca

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