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Why the ‘vacancy rate’ is a misleading statistic for Kelowna renters

Kelowna's dismal vacancy rate was cited by multiple city councilors when voting against permitting carriage homes and secondary suites to be used as short term rentals last week.

According to the staff report, approving the proposal risked damaging Kelowna's slowly growing vacancy rate (1.9%) by taking possible units out of the long term rental pool.

However, councilor Charlie Hodge called out the vacancy rate as a statistic, highlighting that the number doesn't include carriage homes, secondary suites or rooms in stand-alone houses to begin with.

“Council keeps saying ‘oh we're protecting long term rentals,’ bulls***, I'm calling bulls***,” said Hodge to KelownaNow.

“When you tell me the vacancy rate in my community is based solely on purpose built rentals, it's certainly not going to be close to accurate.”

According to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), a city’s vacancy rate is calculated annually and based upon the amount of purpose build rentals, such as apartments and townhouses, in a community.

Scrolling through Kelowna's classified sections shows secondary suites and carriage homes represent a large number of currently available rentals, despite not being included in the city's official vacancy rate.

Furthermore, councillor Hodge highly doubts owners who have decided not to use their suite as a long term rental will have a change of heart anytime soon.

"By denying short term rentals in these units we've forced the average homeowner to rent to a long term tenant, but a large number of homeowners won't do that anymore," said Hodge.

"There's no logic to believe it's going to happen, not until they revise the Residential Tenancy Act."

A better question may be whether or not it even needs to happen.

A 2018 city report stated 2,937 rental units are either recently occupied, under construction, approved for development or in the approval process.

In response to those added units, Kelowna's vacancy rate grew from 0.2% to 1.9% between 2017 and 2018.

Again, that's not including available rooms in houses, secondary suites or carriage homes.

What these numbers point to is a vastly different rental landscape compared to five years ago.

"Over the last five years, this council has approved hundreds and hundreds of micro suites, bachelors suites, secondary suites, students housing, low income housing," said Hodge.

"There's a lack of pet friendly rentals for sure, but to anyone who says there's nowhere to rent I say just go online."

Despite a tight four to three vote against adding more units to the short term rental pool, council did seem unified in the need to revise the Residential Tenancy Act.

As a former landlord himself, councillor Hodge remains adamant he and his wife will never rent their secondary suite again after hosting a regrettable tenant.

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