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Renters' pocketbooks get lighter as rent rises

DICKINSON - Gas prices are skyrocketing. The cost of food is climbing. And for many Dickinson residents, rent prices have been steadily increasing.

"There's no money for anything extra," renter Jamie Brenlla said. "It's almost like you're going to have to start living in a box or under a bridge."

A strong regional economy, low unemployment and a booming energy industry are creating a demand for housing that's pushing up rent prices across the city, said Dave Bauer, owner of Bauer Property Management LLC. Bauer, who manages about 500 units in Dickinson, said his rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments have jumped 25 percent in the last year.

"Rents have gone up and will continue to rise," Bauer said. "No way around it."

Becky Thorpe, a broker and owner at West Plains Realty Inc., said her company last month increased rent across-the-board by $50. Though not all renters in their 175 units took it lying down, Thorpe said.

"We probably had a half-dozen notices to vacate immediately," she said.

Thorpe said West Plains' rents on two-bedrooms with garages have gone from $285 to $525 in the past three to five years. Lucille Austin, 79, moved into one of those two-bedrooms a year ago. She said the recent rent hike cuts into her fixed income.

"You don't get any raises, it just kind of drags down what you do have," she said.

Austin said she's been considering senior housing options in the area, but right now plans on staying put.

"I kind of figured this is the best I could do," she said.

Other factors spurring the rising rents are increased property taxes and higher costs for management, insurance, utilities, repairs and maintenance, said Neal Messer, an agent for Continental Real Estate Inc. The amplified expenses trickle down to renters as owners continue to seek a 9- to 11-percent return on their investment, he said.

Messer said Continental's rents have gone up around 20 percent in the last year and 50 percent in the past five years. He suggested that renters who don't want to pay higher rent should look for other housing.

"The market is the recourse. If you think you're being overcharged, just go out and find another unit," Messer said.

But Brenlla, who lives with her 3-year-old daughter, said the costs of moving dissuade her from giving up her two-bedroom. She said she'd like to see some improvements to her apartment with drafty windows when the rent goes up.

"He raises it $25 every single year, and he does nothing to the apartments at all," she said, referring to her landlord.

Yet another driver of rent prices has been increased enrollment at Dickinson State University, Bauer said. Bauer said he expects housing in the city to tighten up as the fall semester approaches.

DSU students Lisa Linthicum and Marc Zingarelli share a two-bedroom apartment in north Dickinson. The couple says they're feeling the squeeze of mounting living costs.

"We're both trying to pay for college, and we still have to have a part-time job...or else we would not be able to afford anything," Zingarelli said.

The two said they would prefer to rent a house but have had no luck in finding a vacancy. Reinforcing that point, Messer said rental houses are easy for his company to fill.

"We don't even have to run an ad when a single-family becomes available because the word of mouth typically will get it rented," he said.

Dick Theurer, who rents five units in Dickinson, said some new rental housing has been built in the city in recent years, and he anticipates more construction in the future.

"At some point, some investor is going to say, 'Let's get some investment properties up,'" Theurer said.