Rental situation in Penticton dire for many as prices remain high and inventory is lacking

Rental market 'battlefield'

"Not a chance," "good luck," or "you’ll have better possibilities elsewhere" are phrases locals looking for affordable rentals in Penticton hear all the time.

Options are thoroughly lacking in the community, and the volume of hopeful renters posting daily to local Facebook groups pleading for help in trying to find a home just keeps increasing.

Larry Smyth, who is in his early 50s and currently living in Ontario, is trying to find a home for him and his cat in BC to be close to his family in Chilliwack.

Smyth has posted on Facebook pages in Penticton, Chilliwack, Hope, Mission, Kelowna, and more, trying to find suggestions for an apartment or basement suite he can rent.

“I've been doing a lot of research that way, uprooting my life from here to there,” he said. “The beauty of this online thing, with Facebook and everything else this is a person really gets a chance to look into things.”

While Smyth found Penticton locals online to be friendly and helpful, he soon was made aware of the dire situation in getting a rental.

“I've been just surprised with the number of degrees of comments that have been made ... it tells me that the area is lacking in rentals.

“But reading between the lines with everyone that's been commenting, I sense the frustration in a lot of those comments, it's almost like they’re at their own wit's end.”

Claire Ellis, 25, is a local who has been struggling to find an affordable place to rent since she was 18.

“The rental prices since I've graduated have doubled, maybe even tripled in price, but the minimum wage has only gone up maybe three dollars,” she said.

“For us making minimum wage jobs, it's a lot. 80 to 90 per cent of our income is going to rent.”

The lack of options, high rental prices and the credentials to apply that you need are frustrating for many.

“I was basically the 48th applicant to apply for the place as soon it was maybe the day-old of an ad,” Adam Lawrence, another would-be renter, said. The 34-year-old looked actively for a rental for six months before his lease was up, but with no success.

“I even had to stay in a hotel for two months just because of the lack of rentals.”

Smyth added to this point, stating it’s discouraging to try and even move into town.

“Makes me think ‘S**t maybe I should just stay away from Penticton altogether, it seems to be more negative than positive in terms of places to get or the pricing of the rent.'"

Deborah Moore, broker and owner of Re/Max Penticton Realty who sometimes works with renters, said the rental situation is a direct reflection of the real estate market.

“It looks similar to the real estate market because too many consumers are competing for too few properties. Like buyers, tenants have to be competitive and they really have to think long and hard, do I need to move right now,” Moore explained.

“In good times, it's difficult in the spring and summer in the South Okanagan, in particular, to find rental accommodations ... Similarly, it's expensive to own that property for the landlord to rent it out, so landlords are passing on the costs where they can.”

The most recent data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has Penticton's rental market at a dire one per cent vacancy rate.

The boom in the housing market isn’t helping renters either, with houses selling fast and lots being sold off to make way for pricey townhomes and condos.

“Most of us young people are making barely even more than we can even afford for rent,” Ellis said.

“$1,200 to $1,600 depending obviously where and how new it is ...This has been a struggle for me and a lot of close friends.”

Her group also has a hard time finding rentals that allow pets that are also in their price range, adding on a damage deposit, pet deposit and first month's rent.

“It's really sad that the people that live here are being turned away and we can't find places to live.”

There is an longstanding call in the community for more affordable housing, but as Moore explains, it isn’t that simple.

“Certainly, from a tenant's perspective, it seems wow, that's insane to pay $1,500 to $2,000 a month to rent that, but in reality, the owner is paying more than that,” she said. “Everybody seems to be not addressing the giant pink elephant in the room which is the lack of housing supply and do we really need another study for that?

“We need policies to pave the way for more housing supply which will allow the market to naturally adjust and provide more accommodations for everyone.”

Lawrence is seeing these missing pieces translate into more people being homeless, and people who are fully employed and capable of paying rent left without an option.

“Every hotel in town that offers rentals is full ... The people that can't get into hotels are sleeping on the streets and in their vehicles, I see people sleeping in their vehicles up Carmi, at the beach. Some are people that are working a full-time job here in Penticton sleeping in their vehicle."

Lawrence has now started looking for apartments with a roommate, since the doubled amount of income gives them more reach to find a place to live.

“It's literally a battlefield out there and not to mention, it's a bidding war," he said.

Ellis feels the same way.

"It's very hard to find stuff, I've had to move back home a handful of times since I was 19,” he explained.

“I can't imagine the spectrum of people that are struggling right now, from kids as young as 18 to as old as 88.”

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