Renting in Toronto is a lot like playing musical chairs. You start off optimistic, with a spot in the circle, and you’re relatively confident you’ll find another seat. But as time goes on, fewer chairs are left behind, and if you don’t move fast enough—or get lucky—you may never snag a seat again.
Toronto apartment rentals are currently sitting at a 99% occupancy rate. And according to data from Padmapper, the average cost of a one-bedroom rental is around $2,000 a month. Those are some slim and unaffordable pickings. But it’s not just the quantity of rentals that’s plummeted in this city. It’s the quality, too. I’ve lived here for seven years, and before finding an acceptable apartment, I had to endure some pretty unfortunate living conditions.
It’s made me resolve not to move again — unless I leave Toronto for good.
Allow me to relive the horrors of renting in this city so I can show you why I’m staying put. My first apartment was a four-bedroom basement in Little Italy that I shared with three girlfriends. It cost me $600 per month. As it always does, life underground started out fine. Sure, it was dark and damp most of the time, but I was a naïve 20-year-old enamored with her new city.
Sure, it was dark and damp most of the time, but I was a naïve 20-year-old enamored with her new city
Once the moving-in commotion stopped, however, several other (unwelcome) tenants began to emerge. I spotted the first mouse after returning home from a late-night restaurant shift. There it was, casually hanging out on our toaster, cleaning up the crumbs in time for morning, when I would’ve unknowingly dropped a bagel in there and gone about my day.
My nightly routine involved stuffing a towel under my door to keep the mice from entering my room. You can guess how well that worked out. My landlord dropped off some mousetraps — the sticky, inhumane kind that doesn’t kill the mouse right away. From our bedrooms late at night, we’d hear squeaking and squealing while one of them tried to free itself. We once trapped a mouse inside a Tupperware container and decided the friendliest course of action was to release it far from the apartment. So, on my way to a party one night, I carried Tupperware Mouse to Trinity Bellwoods and released it into a garbage bin. I figured this was the closest thing to its nirvana.
The place had other “quirks,” too. My roommate’s bedroom, for example, had an exposed sewage drain near the head of her bed, which made the entire room (and if we didn’t keep her door shut, the entire house) reek like death. Her bedroom also faced an alleyway. One rainy night, a car came speeding through and hit a water-filled pothole beside her window, soaking her and her bed sheets.
The final straw came the following summer when we noticed a man masturbating almost nightly outside my bedroom window. The police informed us we weren’t the only victims. Needless to say, this is when I moved back in with my parents for the remainder of the summer.
The final straw came the following summer when we noticed a man masturbating almost nightly outside my bedroom window
Next, I headed to the east end, to the Sherbourne and Gerrard area, which, in my defense, is far less precarious-looking during the day than at night. I shared this two-bedroom, bars-on-all-the-windows apartment with a schoolmate. It was only a 10-minute walk from Ryerson’s campus and $50 cheaper per month than my previous place. I vividly remember my first morning in this apartment. I stood in the living room eating a bowl of cereal, just staring out the floor-to-ceiling window. Oh, how I’d missed the daylight.
But you know who stole that joy from me? Cockroaches. These six-legged devils were everywhere. One morning before school, I pulled a plate down from the cupboard and one fell onto my chest, disappearing inside my shirt. This heinous act sent me into a frantic striptease. I’d come home late at night, turn on the light, and watch dozens of cockroaches scurry across the counter back into the crevices from which they came. My landlord sprayed the apartment — twice — to no avail. And after four months, I left for Denmark, where I went to study on exchange for a cockroach-free semester.
When I came back to Toronto the following summer, things were looking up. I found a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in the St. Clair West area for $1,270 a month, which I split with the same roommate who’d survived the cockroach den with me. It was light, airy and spacious, with newly laminated wooden floors and dimmable sconces. Landing it was a total fluke. The landlord had offered it to somebody else, but they backed out at the last minute. It was a renter’s miracle!
The landlord had offered it to somebody else, but they backed out at the last minute. It was a renter’s miracle!
I stayed here for two years, sans mice or cockroaches, and watched the rent increase to about $1,300 — still a steal by Toronto’s standards. Then I made plans to move in with my boyfriend. We’d hoped he’d move into my existing apartment, but that plan fell through when my roommate decided she wanted to stay. So, the dreaded Toronto apartment search began again.
I was determined to find something similar in price to the place I was leaving, but that hope was swiftly quashed. Even in the $1,500-$1,600-a-month range, we saw units with rotting lemons in the cupboard, a massive stainless steel fridge (the main attraction in the listing) that couldn’t fully open, and a plastered-over door inside what would have been our bedroom. When we asked where it led to, the landlord replied, “My wife and I’s bedroom.”
We had to raise our budget to $1,800 a month before we began seeing acceptable units. And that’s what we pay now for a one-bedroom plus den in the Bloor and Ossington area. The good news? Our landlords are real-life angels, we don’t share the space with pests or rodents, and we have a beautiful patio.
But we’ve done the math. That $1,800 could get us a mortgage on a $350,000 home in a rural area, which is where we’d like to end up eventually. For now, though, I’m staying right where I am. Because once I stand up, I know my great, albeit expensive, apartment will be taken right out from under my butt.