On-line tenant and landlord resource

by Marianne Cerilli
In recent years, Winnipeg’s rental market has become increasingly complex.  Low vacancy rates, affordability, and quality of housing are creating significant challenges for renters. Further complicating the state of housing is significant population growth, which is due in large part to rising immigration.
The Winnipeg Rental Network (WRN) was launched in 2008 as a response to these challenges. Initiated by a small group of agencies, the WRN network has grown to become a new approach offering rental housing information and agency co-ordination to improve tenant security for low-income households.  
Rather than have a variety of agencies developing their own lists of available rental housing, we are working together to avoid duplication.  By pooling the resources and expertise of a variety of agencies, we can reduce the incidence of eviction and provide better placement services, which benefits both landlords and tenants. Minimizing tenant moves and evictions is cost effective for everyone, including government agencies such as the Residential Tenancies Branch.
The network’s website, www.winnipegrentnet.ca, was launched in April 2009 as an on-line tenant and landlord resource centre. It features a free listing service for affordable rentals, information about over 60 agencies that support various tenant groups, resources for tenants including tips for finding rental housing, a tenant guide, and rental assistance programs.  
There is also information for landlords including guidelines on rights and responsibilities, as well as information about repair programs such as the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, or RRAP.  
For renters seeking accommodations, the website can search geographically and by other preferences.  
While the WRN website is a free service for landlords and tenants, it only accepts rental listings that are below the median market rents. Landlords and property managers can log-on and self-manage rental listings, including immediate activation and de-activation (and storage) of listings.  The WRN administrator can also create listings for landlords. There are currently over 200 property owners listing vacancies.  
The network’s development has included the import participation of property owners/managers in the WRN steering committee. The landlord perspective is an important part of all discussions and planning within the network. To this end, the WRN will be hosting free landlord workshops called the Landlord Advantage Series. The  workshops primarily target smaller landlord portfolios and property management firms, and will cover topics such as renovation programs and grants, health and safety measures, and residential tenancies regulations. The first workshop will cover Renovation Grants and Programs, and will be held at the Galo Louco (1075 Notre Dame) on Saturday, May 5, at 9 a.m.
WRN recognizes that preventing eviction is in the best interest of tenants and property owners/managers, resulting in reduced costs and work time. The WRN also recognizes that eviction prevention begins when tenants pay their damage deposit. We understand that creating successful tenancies  benefits the community as a whole.  With this in mind, the WRN is preparing eviction prevention workshops for social service agency staff and their clients.
In June 2011, the WRN was co-host with the WinnipegREALTORS® in a community dialogue about Manitoba’s Rental Housing Shortage: A  Discussion Paper Highlighting Challenges and Solutions, released by WinnipegREALTORS®. The event was attended by many WRN agencies concerned about the low vacancy rate and rising rents.  Those assisting tenants and property owners agreed on many things and pledged to work together to ensure solutions take into consideration the interests of both.
As the year unfolds, we will continue to invite all to join in discussions. For further information, e-mail Gordon McIntyre, WRN co-ordinator, contact@winnipegrentnet.ca, or call 927-2335
(Marianne Cerilli is the WRN steering committee chair and co-ordinator of West Central Women’s Resource Centre’s HOMES Program.)