OPINION: Rental housing issues abound in Squamish

The noise coming from the Squamish rental housing sector is getting louder, fueled by an unprecedented population influx and the associated demand for accommodations.                                                                                    

There is still a wave of sticker shock rippling through town related to what some observers consider sky-high rents. After a block of two and three-bedroom apartments on University Hill were listed this past spring, several potential tenants registered complaints on social media about the starting monthly rate of $2,125. One called that price a “joke.” Another poster wondered if the fee could be haggled down to a more reasonable $1,600.

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That said, in terms of escalating rent spikes, this neck of the woods is hardly an outlier.  According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, most major Canadian cities lack neighbourhoods where a minimum-wage worker can comfortably afford an average-priced one-bedroom apartment.

To free up more housing stock the District of Squamish is contemplating banning short-term rentals in secondary suites. Enforcing that edict may prove challenging. Many landlords have tapped into the short-term rental market because the provincial government has stipulated rent hikes can only exceed an annual 2.5 per cent ceiling when a unit is vacated and new tenants move in.

Applications to go beyond that upper limit will be considered if substantial renovations were required that couldn’t reasonably have been foreseen, or an extraordinary increase in operating expenses was incurred. But some owners wonder why similar caps are not applied in the marketplace. For starters, over the past decade, the combined municipal taxes and utilities tab has eclipsed the inflation rate by a considerable margin.

Many landlords can recall the lean years when rental incomes were low. Now that the housing landscape has become more lucrative, there is a feeling they are being saddled with the task of cleaning up the affordability crisis created by successive federal and provincial governments.

Pets are another prickly subject. Under the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act, landlords have the right to bar pets from their premises. Some prospective tenants claim that restriction is akin to banning children because four-legged companions are family members.  Despite those protestations, the B.C.’s Rental Housing Task Force vetoed a request to mandate inclusive pet rental buildings citing landlords’ property rights and the unfairness to other tenants who may be averse to living with pets in adjacent units.

The task force heard concerns about possible pet-related disturbances, property damage and allergies.

A lack of tenant parking facilities is an added concern. With the shift towards greater urban density, the parking challenge has the potential to lurch into critical mass territory in Squamish soon.

Shunting vehicles onto adjoining streets and lanes has already become the default solution in many cases. The congestion from so-called “garage orphans” has led to more than a few standoffs between neighbours and the community at large.                                                                                                                             All things considered, when it comes to rental accommodations, as the saying goes, we live in interesting times.

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