As landlords cash in on high prices, Toronto renters are scrambling for a place to live

By: Maureen Genore on May 26, 2017
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In Toronto’s red-hot real estate market, it’s not just stressed-out potential buyers who are feeling the heat. Increasingly, renters are finding themselves in the unfortunate situation of having to uproot their lives and find a new place to live.

Sky-high real estate prices in the Greater Toronto Area mean many landlords are looking to cash out while prices are up. This may be a dream come true for sellers, but it’s having devastating effects on tenants who are given 60 days to leave, and are unwillingly thrust into the volatile Toronto rental market.

Data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. shows that last year, the overall vacancy rate of rental units in the GTA was 1.3%. That number is even lower in the City of Toronto, and even lower still for condo rentals. At any given time, someone hunting for an apartment has to deal with the fact that fewer than 1% of potential rentals in the city are unoccupied.

Unfortunately, as the real estate boom continues, more renters are finding themselves being given the 60-day ultimatum by their landlords. And many are discovering that 60 days is not enough time to find a place to live in this market.

Last resort

Barbara, a 29-year-old aerospace engineer, was living in her west-end Toronto apartment for three years when she got a notice at the end of March that her landlord was planning to sell the unit.

“I didn’t want to be put in the position where someone else would determine my 60 days, so I gave them notice at the end of March,” Barbara says.

As it turns out, the unit was put on the market within a few days, and sold a few days after that — meaning the timing wouldn’t have been much different anyways.

After she gave her notice, the search was on. With just 60 days to find a new place to live, Barbara was in full-on apartment hunt mode. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t go as well as she’d hoped.

“I guess I didn’t realize that I was getting a pretty good deal living in my condo,” she says. “I noticed when I was searching for a place to live that all of the prices had gone up and everything was super expensive. I actually wanted to be a bit more east than I am now, but that was going to be even more expensive.”

I noticed when I was searching for a place to live that all of the prices had gone up and everything was super expensive

Despite her best efforts, Barbara has been unsuccessful in finding anything in her price range that checked all of the boxes for her.

“I didn’t end up finding anything, so, I am going to take the millennial route and move back home,” she says. “I figured maybe I’d just save a little bit, and start to search again out of the comfort of my parent’s home.”

While to some Barbara might be considered lucky to have the ability to move back home, it’s certainly not her ideal situation. It will mean she’s further from downtown, and add time to her daily work commute.

Separation anxiety

Barbara isn’t the only one in this situation. Jodi, a 29-year-old teacher and her boyfriend Matt, a 31-year-old grocery manager, have also recently found themselves with just 60 days to find a new place to live.

Jodi and Matt moved into their current apartment on the top floor of a home in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood in June of last year. They signed a one-year lease, and made it clear to their landlord that they were looking to stay for the long term. However, a few short months later they received a letter from their landlord that she was putting the home up for sale.

The house went on the market, but luckily for Jodi, Matt and their downstairs neighbours, it didn’t end up selling and was taken off the market shortly after.

“I think it didn’t sell largely because of its listing price, but maybe also because it was tenant occupied. Either way, we were really relieved,” Jodi says.

Life went back to normal for the couple. Or at least it did until this April — when they got the dreaded N12 eviction notice. This time, the reason was stated as the landlord and her family would be moving into the home at of the end of June.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve put a lot of work into the apartment,” says Jodi. “We’ve painted and done other things to make it a lot nicer, and now we have to leave. We also don’t really think they’re actually moving back in. But unfortunately, there’s no way for us to know that for sure.”

A competitive market

Despite their suspicions, Matt and Jodi had no choice but to get started with their least favourite activity: apartment hunting.

“The day after we got the notice we started looking,” Jodi says. “At this point, it’s getting very, very stressful. It’s taking up all of our spare time, and we’ve even had to take time off work to go to see units.”

Sadly, their search has been less than fruitful. They’ve sent countless email inquiries, made dozens of phone calls and viewed nearly twenty units. Of those, Jodi describes only two of those as being “decent” — which to her means well maintained and safe. Many of the rest were dirty, tiny, and over-priced for what they offered. The few that they have liked have been very, very competitive.

We also don’t really think they’re actually moving back in. But unfortunately, there’s no way for us to know that for sure

“We saw one where there were at least five couples in line outside, another five inside, and a bunch more coming while we were leaving,” she says. “We applied and didn’t even hear anything back. Looking for apartments in Toronto is like going on job interviews.”

As of now, Jodi and Matt are waiting to hear back from a few potential places. They’re still also actively looking, ready to pounce on any new leads. And the back up plan?

“Well, we have two options.” Jodi says. “Either we both move in with Matt’s parents, who live outside of the city, though for work that would be pretty hard for me. Or, we’ll have to live separately. I’d go back to my parents who live a bit closer, and he’d move back in with his parents.”

Enlisting some help

Megan Sheppard, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Hallmark Realty in Toronto, says the competitive rental market is nothing new. But with daily news headlines about high home prices, homeowners are looking to cash in right now — to the detriment of renters.

“There has always been a demand for rentals, though with the value of real estate going up, and the portrayal of it in the media, people are freaking out and selling. The idea of scarcity has a lot of people thinking — ‘let’s cash out’,” Sheppard says.

Sheppard is the first to admit that the rental market in Toronto can be tough. She even recalls instances of bidding wars over rental units she's experienced in the past year.

"I once had a bidding war with a client who was a student," she says. "Even when we offered up six months of rent upfront, the owners chose someone else. They didn't want to have a student as a tenant."

Or, we’ll have to live separately. I’d go back to my parents who live a bit closer, and he’d move back in with his parents

Given how hyper-competitive the market in Toronto has become, many renters are now turning to real estate agents to give them a leg up. But even this is no sure-fire way to land a unit in 60 days. Barbara says she enlisted the help of a real estate agent, but the right property never came up.

Sheppard, however, recommends using any advantage you can get in this market — and a real estate agent is an advantage.

“When you get sick, go to a doctor. When you need a house, go to a real estate agent,” she says.