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Renters have multiple choices this year

Whistler's rental market swings from brutal to bountiful



The rental market is open - wide open.

In mid-October 2009, people were lining up at the Pique office first thing Thursday morning to get copies of the paper fresh from the printer to secure one of the few rental units posted. At that time the Pique classifieds included 130 long-term suites, houses and apartments available in Whistler and Pemberton combined.

This October there are 269 long-term rental units available for the same region.

Squamish has stayed steady with 36 rental units available last year and 37 this year, but it is clear the Whistler market favours renters for the first time in years.

Part of the increase in availability over the past year can be attributed to rentals held back by owners who tried their luck in the vacation market during the Winter Olympics. Development and a more accessible ownership market in Whistler has also contributed to the surplus. New, affordable housing at Cheakamus Crossing and Rainbow has encouraged more people to buy, leaving an excess of rentals available in their wake.

"Of all the owners that are taking possession of their new homes down there, the clear majority of them, probably upwards of 80 per cent of them, are coming out of rental inventory in Whistler, so a lot of their rental units are obviously coming available for the market. That's clearly a factor," said Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA).

"There are 250 rental units available in Whistler. That compares to last year at the same time to 68, and the year before 30, and the year before 83... so there is considerably higher availability of rental units right now."

There is also an increase in the number of rental units, thanks to 55 new WHA rental units in an apartment building at Cheakamus Crossing. The WHA units are offered at competitive rental prices - a studio goes for $775 per month and a one-bedroom for $995, which may mean privately-owned units elsewhere in Whistler won't get the rates as high as they've seen in previous years.

Over the past month, overall prices have dropped across the board. In previous years, it wasn't unheard of to rent a one-bedroom for around $1,500 per month. This October the price has dropped to $1,300.

Kathy Mason and her family have been trying to rent their one bedroom suite at Alta Lake for $1,300. Since posting it in the classifieds three weeks ago, Mason has received approximately 25 calls, but says no one has expressed any interest in actually renting it.

"We've had quite a few people looking at it but no one has actually said 'We'd like to fill out an application,'" she said. "It doesn't have a full kitchen so it's probably about that. It's just a suite that we've been using ourselves for family and friends and we thought we'd see what the rental situation is like. It would probably be good for one person but the price would probably be difficult. Maybe we have to rethink it, I don't know."

Another owner, whose studio suite at Alta Vista is posted in Pique for $850, says this year is markedly different from the previous four he has experienced as a landlord.

"It's not what it was two years ago when people were knocking down the door to rent it. Now it's more of a normal situation, I'd say," he said.

Though this season's figures have yet to be proven, the number of employees last winter at peak season was 12,300, with seasonal workers making up 5,300 of that total.

"We know that 76 per cent of that number, which is about 9,300, live in Whistler locally," said Zucht. "This winter not as many people need to be sharing accommodation. The horror stories, the worst case scenarios that you would hear in the past where 15 people would be bunking up together will probably not be seen this year, hopefully."