When fifth-year mechanical engineering student Oliver South took to Twitter to share his experience finding housing at UBC, he was hitting on a problem that many other students are facing this year.
South reached out to another student who had a listing for a sublet on the private UBC Roommates and Housing Facebook page. South shared to Twitter a screenshot of the text he received in reply. The response said that the sublet listing drew over 100 replies with people offering $1750 for the one room in a four-bedroom unit - $785 more than the recommended rate decided upon by UBC housing.
The subletter asked South if he was able to top the offer.
What does the UBC housing problem look like?
"It's been like this for a while," shares South of the bidding war. "But to a much lesser extent. During the school year, people would rent for above market prices and during the summer they would rent below. It wasn't unusual before to see people renting rooms for maybe $1200 on campus, but this level of competition is new."
South told the subletter he wasn't able to pay that amount but did counter offer with a number that was still above what UBC charges. "I've sent over 30 replies to listings and maybe gotten 10 replies, and out of those five virtual viewings. I've pursued the application process with all five but have been notified that the place was rented to someone else," he says.
According to South, landlords prefer renters with connections or who have already graduated. "Students are suffering," he says. "I'm looking at securing a place through friends because that's basically the only way I can see it working out right now. It's bad though because those without connections I will be left without a place to live."
South also tweeted a screenshot of another student sharing her experience looking for housing over the past month and a half with no luck. The student says that she has applied to over 70 different listings but has no leads and that every place, shared or not, is over $2000.
Are students allowed to inflate the price of sublets?
A spokesperson for UBC explains that the housing policy does allow for sublets but typically during the summer months. "We approve very few sublets for the academic year," they tell Vancouver Is Awesome in an emailed statement. "Unlike most universities, we allow subletting to make year-round contracts as reasonable as possible for students. By offering year-round housing, we help to provide students with housing security. We also offer summer residence to students."
Students that have been granted a contract to sublet their housing by UBC are meant to create their own subletting agreements with sublessees which includes agreeing to a rent amount.
"As UBC is not a party to those agreements, we are not in a position to enforce limits on whether rents are below or above the room rate we charge the contract holder," says the spokesperson.
UBC Student Housing's recommended rate per residence is publicly posted on their website and is by and large lower than the average market rate. They also offer students who are subletting their residences advice and resources on best practices but they do not monitor if students chose to follow these guidelines.
UBC Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS) does, however, monitor social media for unauthorized sublets when possible and investigates, if brought to their attention.
What is UBC doing to help with housing?
"It's not even so much about the rents being high. There just simply isn't enough housing for the number of people that need it," challenges South. "Any listing has 100+ replies according to the landlords and they're [rented] within hours. UBC needs to build much more housing and the City of Vancouver needs to allow more affordable types of housing to be built."
UBC claims that since 2011 they have invested more than $634 million in new student housing developments, adding 5,555 new beds to its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. "We recognize that the housing and rental market in Vancouver is a challenge for UBC students, staff and faculty, and the university is working as hard as possible to meet that challenge," SHCS said in its statement to V.I.A.
They direct students to their on-campus and off-campus guides that tackle "neighbourhoods, recommendations about things to consider when deciding where to rent, a checklist of things to look for when viewing rental accommodation, suggestions about available search tools, reminders about utilities and renters insurance, a link to the Residential Tenancy Office, and some suggestions for short-term accommodation while seeking longer-term rental housing."
V.I.A reached out to subletters who have rented their housing for more than the recommended rate for comment but did not receive a reply.