Vacancy rates in Fort St. John jump to 4 per cent

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Vacancy rates are up but so are rent prices in Fort St. John, according to new statistics released today.

In its spring Rental Market Report, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation pegged apartment vacancy rates in the city for April 2015 at four per cent, up from just 1.5 per cent a year ago.

Fort St. John ranks among the most expensive markets in the province, second only to Vancouver in nearly every category measured, and on par with the provincial average.

CMHC pegs the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in Fort St. John at $1,111, with Vancouver just slightly higher at $1,345. The average rent for a one-bedroom unit was pegged at $879, with bachelor suites reported at $751. The price for a three-bedroom-plus unit were at about $1,155, about a $20 bill cheaper than rents reported in Dawson Creek and Kelowna.

According to the report, cities across the province that reported a jump in vacancy rates year over year were mostly in areas affected by a decline in resource prices and economic activity.

That certainly appears true for the Li-Car Management Group, where owner Lita Powell says the company has seen an year over year increase in the number of units it has available for rent. The company, as with others, have had to adjust to a market correction of sky high oil prices, she said.

In April 2014, Li-Car did not have any units for rent, according to Powell, compared to five units it had on the market in April of this year.

“Now is a much different story. Now we have in excess of 25,” Powell said, noting that units range from bachelor suites to four bedroom homes.

Still, rental demand in Fort St. John has always been seasonal, she notes.

“We always see peak notices come in at the end of March, prior to break up, that’s the one little bit of peak,” she said.

“Then there’s a major peak at the end of June… when people make their family decisions based on school years

“June has always been the time where we receive the most notices, and July is the hardest month to rent in. But demand always rises very strong from about the 15th of Augsut to the 15th of October,” said Powell.

According to CMHC, Fort St. John saw about nine more units available for rent in the city year over year, with 1,659 units up for rent, from 1,650 the year prior.

Powell estimates there are roughly another 150-plus rental units expected to enter the market in the coming months.
The new units will most certainly increase the vacancy rate, but for how long remains to be seen, she said.

“The absorption time for 150 units in a community this size typically would take six to eight months, but it really depends. Everything right now is price sensitive,” she said.

“People aren’t making the money they were, or if they are, they’re being a lot more cautious with it.”

Highest vacancy rates reported in Dawson Creek

Overall, apartment vacancy rates declined in the province to 1.8 per cent this spring, down from 2.4 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, Dawson Creek reported the highest vacancy rates in the province at 8.9 per cent, up from 8 per cent last year. Monthly rents average there for $941, with rents for a bachelor suite around $690, and a two-bedroom around $1,084.

The lowest vacancy rates were reported in Parksville at just one per cent. The lowest rents were found in Quesnel, at an average of $610.

Powell says low vacancy rates are not healthy for landlords as they can’t refurbish their units for prospective tenants.

And, with vacancy rates expected to continue to climb, Powell says landlords must have a “social conscience” with tenants in a position of having more selection in the market, noting that it is still difficult for the working poor in the region to meet regional housing prices on minimum wage, or even $15 an hour.

“Landlords need to reassess what they need to have for rent opposed to what they want to have for rent,” she said.