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Are there more renters in Nelson than before, or fewer rental units, or both?

Second in a series about renting in Nelson
Finding rental housing in Nelson is an increasingly frustrating task. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Second in an occasional series about renting in Nelson. You can read the first story, about rentals in downtown Nelson, here.

The rental vacancy rate in Nelson is zero — nobody disputes that.

But the fact raises many questions that are difficult to answer.

How many long-term rental suites are there in Nelson? Is the number increasing, or declining? Are we seeing a decrease in available suites, or an increase in people wanting to rent them, or both? How many long-term rentals have been converted to short-term rentals?

Vacancy rate numbers come from Nelson Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and they are based on available suites in apartment buildings and row-housing only. Suites in houses are not part of the calculation.

CMHC says there are currently 509 rental suites in Nelson in multiple-unit buildings.

What about rental suites in houses?

Maybe we can count them by looking at the number of legal secondary suites in Nelson. (Legal means they are licensed by the city and meet a variety of requirements.)

But no.

“The number of rental suites might be lower than the number of secondary suites,” city planner Alex Thumm said in an email, “as not all suites are rented out e.g. in-laws, grandma might be living in there, the family’s 17-year old high school student, the family’s 30-year old kid who may or may not be paying rent to their parents … lots of imaginable scenarios.”

Also, maybe there are illegal suites out there that are rented out long term, and precisely because of their illegality there is no way of knowing how many there are.

“It is certainly likely that there illegal suites out there that we don’t know of,” Thumm said. “The thing with illegal suites is that chances are that we will one day find out about them. For example, the owners apply for a permit for something else, or put the property up for sale and prospective buyers want to know whether it is a legal suite or not …”

At the end of 2019, Nelson had 503 legal secondary suites and 24 laneway houses, Thumm says. At the end of 2018, 485 and 18; and at the end of 2017, 453 and 14.

So there is a small annual increase.

But those numbers tell us nothing about how many of those suites are available to renters, so it’s hard to compare availability year over year, or to quantify the impact of conversion to short-term rentals such as Airbnb.

To run a short-term rental in Nelson a homeowner needs to get a licence from the city and Thumm says the city monitors this so closely that it is unlikely there are unlicensed short-term rentals. He says there are currently 60 annual licences and 25 four-month licences for a total of 85.

Just because a house has a short-term rental in it does not mean that suite would otherwise be a long-term rental, according to Stephen Harris, the head of the Nelson Short-Term Rental Owners’ Association

“My own short-term rental didn’t affect the total long-term rental stock, as I had zero interest in being a long-term landlord, and wasn’t one before getting my short-term licence,” Harris told the Nelson Star in an email.

“This was a common situation for our group members.”

In the next part of this series, the Star will talk with an advocate for renters and the president of the West Kootenay Landlord Society.


Have short-term rentals edged out long-term rentals in Nelson’s downtown?

B.C. rental crisis goes far beyond impact of short-term rentals, say experts

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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

Bill has lived in Nelson since 1994 and has worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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