Archive for April 13th, 2012

Renting Home

by lizard

A monthly forum called City Club Missoula featured city councilman Jason Wiener and County Commissioner Jean Curtiss talking about the 10 year plan to end homelessness this past Monday. From what I gathered watching Jason and Jean speak, part of this process entails honestly assessing the gaps and barriers that exist in how Missoula approaches homelessness in our community. To watch a recording of City Club, MCAT will replay it on April 15th.

I was thinking about City Club when I started browsing the insert in this week’s Independent, quaintly called Homesteader. The articles are billed as “Expert Essays” sponsored by the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM).

One of the essays looks at the “daunting” decision to become a landlord, offering 10 tips for successfully renting your home property. The first tip reads:

Prospective tenants have many options to choose from in today’s market; Make sure your home is the one they want. Repair any holes or scuffs on walls, repair all appliances and update if necessary. Check plumbing fixtures for leaks. Maintain your furnace and air conditioner, and double check that everything is working properly. Have your carpets professionally cleaned.

The reason I want to highlight this tip is because I’m skeptical how many options people who are looking to rent actually have in today’s market. It turns out, all I had to do was flip a few more pages, to the next “Expert Essay,” which lays out 28 things every tenant needs to know, because this is how the article describes Missoula’s rental market:

The Missoula rental market can be competitive. Half the local population—or some 30,000 people—rent their home, with 10,000 of those being students attending the University of Montana. On average, Missoula has a rental vacancy rate between 3 and 5 percent; the national average is 10 percent. In such a limited market, it’s important for renters to understand their rights, their responsibilities and what it takes to enter into a positive lease agreement.

Low vacancy rates create a rental environment that benefits landlords—especially the slum kind. That’s why it’s important to know your rights as a renter, because when supply is tight, landlords have more power to abuse. Doesn’t that kind of undermine the earlier claim that “tenants have many options to choose from in today’s market?”

A tight rental market is also going to make it tough to address the barriers people face securing housing—like application fees, security deposits, and paying first and last months rent. For those scraping by on a fixed income, $25 bucks just to process an application can be cost-prohibitive to finding a place to live.

There are lots of things a 10 year plan to end homeless can do, and it’s encouraging to see momentum start to build behind some great ideas. One of the biggest challenges, though, is going to be addressing the tight rental market in Missoula, and how that affects the dynamic between renter and landlord.

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