For Dorothy Leighton and Ron Francis, it’s a question that creeps up every few years: by how much will their rent be increasing?
“Last time…it was a 136 per cent increase right out of the blue,” said Leighton, owner of the High Water Marina.
She and Francis own small boat marinas on the Fraser River in Richmond, leasing the water lots from Port Metro Vancouver. In 2012, Leighton said their rents soared.
“It was about $9,000, then they proposed to make it $21,300, but with a lot of complaining and adjusting, they got it down to $15,000,” she said.
She said the problem lies with how the leases are calculated. Port Metro Vancouver uses nearby industrial land to determine the value of the lots. Leighton and Francis said they’re now turning to the cities of Richmond and New Westminster for support, ahead of an anticipated rent review.
“We’re too small to fight them, [so] we have to do it politically,” said Francis.
Both said they feel as though the port is trying to squeeze them out, while other west coast cities are more welcoming to the marina lifestyle.
“Seattle and Portland have tremendous developments and they’re considered an asset by the local authorities, but here they’re considered by the port to be a nuisance,” said Leighton.
They are planning to speak with other communities up the river.
However, Port Metro Vancouver insists its rents are fair and that it is not using an outdated system to calculate them. More than 1,200 real estate agreements are managed by Port Metro Vancouver and since 2008, it says there’s only ever been one formal rental dispute. That complaint was not filed by Leighton.
“The rent for this marina is about the same as a one-bedroom apartment would rent for in the city of Richmond,” said Tom Corsie, Port Metro Vancouver’s Vice President of Real Estate.
“Ask an appraiser, they’ll typically tell you that a water lot – which is what these tenants were leasing from the port authority is worth a percentage of value of the upland property. So, the industrial land in the region or in the area is our proxy for determining market rent,” he said.
The Port said Leighton is exaggerating the amount she pays in rent, adding it does not foresee a significant increase in the future. It also said there is no attempt to squeeze out Leighton and others, saying it works to maintain a good relationship with its tenants.
Corsie points to the increasing value of industrial land in Metro Vancouver, where demand is out-pacing supply.
“You’re seeing prices of industrial land in North Vancouver for example now hit four million dollars an acre…I didn’t think I’d ever see that. So, the price of industrial land is going up,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leighton and Francis are bracing for the worst, but hoping for a positive resolution.