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How to find (and keep) rentals in Canada's toughest market

Anybody who has hunted for a new rental home in Kelowna knows it’s no picnic. At the end of 2017, the latest Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC) rental market survey showed that Kelowna had the lowest vacancy rate in the country at a meager 0.2 percent — which marks the third year in a row that it has fallen under one percent.

Despite the city’s attempts to improve the situation for renters (they awarded nearly half a million dollars in housing grants to rental development projects this year), the market has yet to see the effects.

Under such circumstances, renters need to be smart and vigilant when looking for new housing. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind if you or somebody you know is on the hunt.

Be wary of rental scams
In a market as hot as this one, landlords are bound to try to take advantage of desperate renters. Since the housing crisis started, a number of rental scams have popped up in the area. These online rental scams are simple yet effective — they often entail copying a real listing but providing false contact information to steer the applicant towards the scammer.

To avoid scams, try to visit rental properties in person to ensure that the landlord or property manager is legitimate and that the property description is accurate. If you can’t visit in person, send someone you trust, such as a close friend or family member. Never transfer money to a landlord online before seeing the property and signing a tenancy agreement. And above all, trust your instincts — if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Scour online listings daily
In order to stay on top of the latest listings, you’ll need to search through them daily and send out a lot of emails to prospective landlords. Ensure that you’re not limiting yourself to only one platform in your search: you should keep your eye on Castanet (the unofficial Craigslist of the Okanagan), Craigslist, Padmapper and Kijiji.

Also take advantage of Facebook community pages created for landlords and renters. These groups are often closed or invite-only, so befriend someone in the community to gain access. And don’t just look — post! Create an “ISO” (In Search Of) post that describes you and what you’re looking for in as much detail as possible.

Present yourself well
It’s a landlord’s market, and with so many people on the hunt, they basically have their pick of potential renters. This means that you need to present yourself in as positive of a light as possible right from the get-go.

In your introductory cold calls and emails, start off by telling the landlord or property manager about yourself. Offer references and be sure to mention your previous tenancy experience as well as the reason why you’re leaving your current rental. When attending viewings, be professional. Dress appropriately and be prepared to fill out an application if asked. If the perfect opportunity presents itself, you need to be ready to jump.

Know your rights
As a tenant, your footing is a little more tenuous than you’d like. That’s why it’s important to protect yourself. One of the best ways to do this is to arm yourself with knowledge. That means understanding the finer points of the BC Residential Tenancy Act — especially the rules around moving in and out, rent hikes and damage deposits.

In any case where you and a landlord disagree, be prepared to point to the Tenancy Act language that backs you up. They are much more likely to take your objections seriously if you can speak intelligently about the regulations in question.

Get the right insurance
Once you’ve actually found a place you want to rent, the next step is safeguarding it. This means getting the right rental insurance. While your landlord’s policy will protect their property, it doesn’t extend to your possessions. BC-based insurance provider BCAA offers insurance specifically for renters. If you’re already a BCAA member, you can save up to 20 percent on renters insurance that protects your personal belongings from break-ins, fire, earthquakes, water damage and more. You’ll even get liability protection in case you accidentally injure another person or damage their property.

It’s a tough market out there for renters right now, but it’s not impossible. Be resourceful and tireless both during your rental hunt and when protecting your rental investment. Take the above advice into account as you’re searching, and you’ll be ahead of the pack. And remember to rely as much as you can on your community: take friends with you to viewings or split up the search labour with your roommate or partner. The more you share the burden, the less overwhelming it will be.

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