For some Sequim residents, finding an affordable place to rent is proving to be difficult. While they don’t earn enough money to afford to buy a house, they make too much to qualify for low-income housing.
Now, a dearth of available rentals in the Sequim market seems to be compounding the problem.
Sequim resident Brandon Janisse, a full-time Walmart employee of seven years, said he does not qualify for low-income housing residences such as Elk Creek or Seabreeze Apartments, but also does not make enough to pay a mortgage on a house.
Affordable or low-income housing is determined by the area median income of Clallam County and that amount is used to base income and rent limits for affordable housing throughout the county.
As of January 2016, the area median income reported for Clallam County was $56,300 — meaning a person qualifies for affordable housing if the individual’s annual income is at 60 percent or below the area median income. For a single individual to qualify for low-income housing, he or she must earn an annual income of $27,480 or below. The income limit is subject to change based on the number of people.
Janisse has found that if a tenant is “not within that income bracket, you’re in the grey area of what (landlords) decide to charge you.”
The lack of a rental market is exacerbated, Janisse found, when landlords raise rates. He explained that since Pebble Bay Apartments, located on South Sunnyside Avenue in Sequim, changed ownership to the San Diego, Calif.-based Pacific Living Properties about a year-and-a-half ago, rental rates have climbed significantly. Janisse said he paid $575 for rent for the first seven years he lived at Pebble Bay, but when the ownership changed, his rent jumped to almost $900 a month over the span of 18 months.
Janisse said he believes the only solutions for tenants are to move out of the area or to sacrifice their standard of living.
“We need to make people aware that there is no ‘robust’ housing market in the city, unless you make enough to afford housing over $300,000,” he said.
A peninsula resident who asked to remain anonymous also said she lived at Pebble Bay apartments for a little over a year-and-a-half because it was the only place that had open listings for apartment rentals.
“Everywhere (was) full on a wait list,” she said.
Management from Elk Creek and Seabreeze apartments both confirmed they have significant wait lists for available units.
Shelley Zimmer, manager at Elk Creek Apartments, said the wait list ranges from 35 applicants on the low end to 75 on the high end depending on the type of unit. She said the one bedroom apartments have the highest number of people on the wait list.
Zimmer said she thinks the difficulty in the rental market in Sequim is due to many landlords selling their houses and the people that were renting homes are now turning to renting apartments.
Management at Seabreeze Apartments said the facility has at least a one-year wait list for one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartment homes and townhouses. While some applicants are able to get in sooner depending on the unit size, one and four bedrooms are the highest in demand.
As of Feb. 7, Landmark Property Management, Inc. has one apartment, 10 single-family homes, two condos and two furnished homes available for rent. The single family homes range from $875-$2,200 a month for rent and the condos, multiplexes and townhouses range from $1,575-$1,675 per month.
Action Property Management has two houses available for rent from $700-$1,200 a month. According to Pebble Bay’s online website, there are no units available for rent.
Prior to renting at Pebble Bay Apartments, the anonymous source said she was on a wait list for a house in Sequim and everywhere else she tried to rent had no availability.
When she and her husband finally rented a one bedroom, one bath apartment for six months at Pebble Bay Apartments, she said her rent increased by $250 six months after she moved in.
According to the source, property managers explained the rent increase was because of the market value of the apartment.
The Tenant’s Union of Washington State explains, “a landlord cannot change any aspect of a lease during the fixed-term period except by mutual agreement. Therefore, rent is fixed during the lease term.”
But a landlord can change the term of a lease agreement effective after a written 30 days notice, “except for termination of tenancy, after 30 days written notice to each affected tenant, a new rule of tenancy including a change in the amount of rent may become effective upon completion of the term of the rental agreement or sooner upon mutual consent” as stated by Washington State Legislature.
Pebble Bay Apartments states on its website that, “As part of our continuing policy of research and improvements, Pebble Bay reserves the right to change prices and terms without prior notice or obligation.”
The anonymous source said Pebble Bay Apartments has a high turnover rate for apartment rentals because of increased rent the company imposes. The business continues to get tenants, she said, because it’s the only facility in Sequim with availabilities.
“I think you don’t have a rental market in Sequim, there is nothing available,” she said.
The source said she and her husband are now renting a house in Port Angeles.
“I would have stayed in Sequim if I could have found a place,” she said.
Pebble Bay Apartments did not respond to phone calls, voicemails or emails.
Owners and brokers of local property management companies, such as Walt Schubert, owner of Action Property Management, and Heidi Ennes, co-owner and broker of Landmark Property Management, Inc., agree that it is difficult for tenants to rent in Sequim.
Action Property Management specializes in single family residences, condominiums and duplexes on the higher end of the rental market. Schubert said there are virtually no listings available for his company at this time.
Schubert said that the past two years for the rental market have been very different from the rental market he has seen in the past 25 years. He calls the rental market squeeze a national issue.
He said he sees many people moving to the area unsure if they want to commit to buying a house and therefore turn to renting as a temporary living solution.
“(It’s) not just a Sequim thing,” Schubert said. “(The) national growing number who don’t want to be homeowners puts a strain on the rental business.”
Instead, Schubert believes many people are turning to the rental industry as a way to transition into the next phase of their lives and that gives them time to decide if they really want to live in a specific area in Sequim.
“They come here because they’re retiring or on vacations thinking they’re now at a time in their life when they can make a move and live here,” he said.
Schubert said the best time to rent is between April and September after the winter season and before the schools are back in session.
Ennes said she believes there is less supply and more demand for the rental market in Sequim — and a corresponding rise in prices — compared to 5-10 years ago.
She said most people in Sequim tend to rent single family residences but that could be because that is what is most frequently available.
“We had a lot more inventory about three years ago,” she said.