Students struggling to find rental housing in Vancouver

by Neil Sharma on 05 Aug 2021

Vancouver’s extremely low rental vacancy rate has sparked fierce competition throughout the city, from downtown up to the University of British Columbia.

“The problem here is we don’t have rental data; it’s a black, opaque market that, unless you know property managers, whom I talk to frequently, it’s all anecdotal, but from what I’m hearing, the rental market is very strong,” said Oakwyn Realty’s Steve Saretsky. “There are bidding wars on rentals, although I wouldn’t say it happens in every condo rental, however, I will say we’ve seen a significant pickup over the last three or four months. Is the rental market quite hot? Yeah, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.

“We’ve always had a low vacancy rate and it’s always been a tight market; we’ve never overbuilt here and rents have been stable for the last two or three years. It hasn’t been a very tenant-friendly market.”

About 20 minutes outside of downtown Vancouver in the UBC neighbourhood, students are scrambling for accommodations. Paula Azevedo, business development manager for Vancouver-based liv.rent, a rental portal for landlords and tenants alike, says there are roughly 1,100 rentals provided by UBC across four buildings and every one of them is tenanted—a first, she added. Using liv.rent’s listings, Azevedo says about 40 apartments remain vacant near the university.

“It’s so crazy. What’s happening here is we’re seeing a huge spike of students looking to rent, especially international students who need housing before they come back to Canada for school,” she said. “In neighbourhoods like Kitsilano Arbutus, and Dunbar, the inventory isn’t even close to what’s near the UBC campus, which is still at an all-time low.”

It’s unsurprising, then, to hear Azevedo talk about how every vacant unit near campus receives dozens of applications. Moreover, desperate international students have resorted to paying landlords rents that are well above asking. Considering UBC has about 70,000 students between both campuses, there’s a premium on student housing.

“I just saw a listing for a rental close to UBC that had over 100 inquiries—and that was just for one listing,” said Azevedo. “It’s highly concerning for us because students are heading back this month and they need to secure safe housing. There’s no way the UBC neighbourhood has enough places to rent.”

liv.rent says each apartment unit near UBC averages 74 daily inquiries, and in an effort to help, the portal is assisting international students and new immigrants find housing before landing in Canada.

“We offer contactless searching by connecting students with landlords to sign leases after going on virtual tours. We check to make sure the apartments are in fact exactly as they appear in pictures,” said Azevedo. “We also help international students bypass credit history checks, which they usually don’t have when they come here, while we help landlords find the right tenants too.”

But she added that some students might not be so lucky.

“The housing market was not like this months ago, and the way it is now, I’m sure students will have to look for places in farther areas, like Surrey, and consider one-hour commutes.”

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