Websites aim to help Vancouver renters and landlords find good housing matches

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By Alyse Kotyk, Bonnie Lee La Madeleine, Caitlin O’Flanagan, Emelie Peacock, Chelsea Powrie, and Jessica Purver

 

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Casalova, based in Toronto, is a website built to help renters and landlords find fitting homes and tenants. It should be coming to Vancouver in January. Photo by Chahira Merarsi.

To help manage searches in Vancouver’s near zero vacancy market, start-ups have emerged to bridge the gap between renters and landlords.

Biddwell, launched in September, is an eBay-style online platform facilitating negotiations between renters and landlords. CEO Jordan Lewis created the company with renters in mind. There are also services for people with tight schedules that will search for apartments with showings on weekends. The tight market has created opportunities to exploit time-strapped renters willing to pay more.

“Tenants are just at the whim of owners and companies. It’s really hard in low vacancy markets,” Lewis said. “Our goal is to just disrupt the normal rental marketplace and give room for negotiations and empowering tenants to have a part in that conversation.”

Advantages to sites include a personal info file to apply easily

The site gives users the opportunity to create a “renter resume” that includes their credit score, employment details, landlord references and other personal information. They can then use this to bid on rental housing and increase their chances of securing a rental through conditional bidding.

“Owners don’t want to put bad tenants in their properties because it’s expensive. People know that a bad tenant can be extremely costly and we’ve seen it time and time again,” Lewis said.

When first launched, many criticized Biddwell for encouraging bidding wars, including Mayor Gregor Robertson. While Biddwell claims to facilitate a fair market value through tenant-landlord negotiation, rental prices are high on the website; the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver at $2,120.

Different online services popping up

Another start-up in the rental market is Casalova. Initially launched in Toronto, Casalova expanded to Vancouver in January. The service aims to bring the entire rental process online, including signing a lease and paying deposits and rent.

“The problem with the current process is that it’s all conducted offline and everyone has their own way of doing it,” said Ray Taeeb, CEO and co-founder of Casalova. “What we’ve done is that now you can finish that process in a matter of one or two days if both parties are engaged in the process.”

Vancouver has yet to see a purely tenant-focused start-up. Rental Dog, the app mapping all rental properties in Vancouver with current bylaw infractions, was abandoned by its founders. Rent Logic, another data-driven solution, is coming to Vancouver next year. Tested out in New York City, Rent Logic uses city data to give landlords grades from A to F and allows renters to see common issues in specific buildings.

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