By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter It’s getting harder to find a vacant apartment in the San Fernando Valley, though rent prices have risen by only 3.8 percent, on average, from a year ago. “Owners are hesitant to raise rents dramatically,” said Maya Mouawad, Southern California division research manager with Marcus & Millichap. “Because for so long vacancies were in the double digits, they’re cautious.” The Los Angeles Housing Authority reports that Valley apartment vacancies reached a low of 4.4 percent in February 1999, down from 6.7 percent in February 1998. Mouawad said the low vacancy rate won’t change soon. Little open land in the Valley means fewer apartments are being built just 500 units are scheduled for 1999 and a good economy with low unemployment is fueling demand. Marcus & Millichap forecasts that new construction for 1999 will only meet a quarter of the expected demand. Most apartment construction activity has been in the Santa Clarita Valley, but even there it has been slight, Mouawad said. Most developers have focused on single-family homes and office and retail projects. In two to three years, if vacancy rates continue to fall, rent increases will start forcing people to the outskirts of L.A., Mouawad said. “We’re seeing this all over Los Angeles County,” he said. “It’s just more tangible in the San Fernando Valley.” Sherman Oaks and Studio City have the lowest vacancy rates in the Valley, and prices are rising in the area comparatively faster. For 1998, monthly rents in those communities increased 4 percent to an average of $832, according to Marcus & Millichap. In 1999, rents are expected to increase 5 percent. The trend has been slow to hit the Northeast and West Valley, where rents have held steady.