Vancouver rental market remains tight

Rents have climbed as vacancy rate hovers near 3%




Jacinta Cox has been looking for a new house to rent since late May with no luck.

She and her family have lived in the same place for eight years, but the landlord wants to sell the house. The Cox family would love to stay in Camas, but Jacinta has had to widen her search.

“There’s such a flood of renters. It’s insane,” the 33-year-old mother of five said. “It’s almost like this competition lottery thing.”

She phoned the landlord of one house posted on Craigslist as soon as she saw the ad, only to be the 70th caller.

Although the rental market rate has loosened up since last fall, it remains tight. As of the last measurement this spring by Tigard, Ore.-based Multifamily NW, the vacancy rate was 3.32 percent in West Vancouver and 2.99 percent in East Vancouver.

Rents have climbed. The average rent was 93 cents per square foot on the west end of town, up from 87 cents last fall. On the east end of town, rent was 97 cents per square foot, up from 94 cents.

The Multifamily NW figures don’t capture the single-family rental market, but the experience there is similar, local landlords say.

“The rental market is going to get tighter and tighter,” said Roger Silver, the information officer for Clark County Rental Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating landlords. He has seven rental properties in Vancouver.

“I talk to a lot of people over the phone every day. Many landlords are getting out of the market,” he said.

Several factors are at play. Some buy rental property without understanding all the regulations they must comply with and how hard it can be to turn a profit. Also, with the housing market rebounding after its crash, many landlords are looking to sell their rental houses.

At the same time, the economy isn’t on solid footing yet, so renters lack security.

“My experience is they are one paycheck away from being a good tenant to a bad tenant,” Silver said.

Anyone with barriers such as a rocky rental history, poor credit or a criminal record is going to have an even tougher time finding a place to rent, because landlords have so many other uncomplicated prospects, said Lyn Ayers, president of the Clark County Rental Association. He’s a landlord with 15 rental houses.

The Great Recession sent the housing market into a tailspin. Many people lost their homes to foreclosure, but instead of creating a spike in rental demand, former homeowners moved in with family or friends, Ayers said. Meanwhile, construction halted.

“Now it’s complicated because the economy is getting better, and people are moving back into rental market,” Ayers said. But at the same time, owners of rental houses are selling. “We haven’t gotten to a steady-state kind of marketplace,” Ayers said.

Apartment inventory is expected to expand, with some large complexes under construction. For example, the 120 units at 15 West Apartments in downtown Vancouver will become available next summer.

“In the meantime,” Ayers said, “it’s still pretty tight.”