“Apartment hunting was like a part-time job. We couldn’t book a showing anywhere”: True tales from the rental crisis

“Apartment hunting was like a part-time job. We couldn’t book a showing anywhere”: True tales from the rental crisis

“I’d never used a realtor to find an apartment rental before, but this time, that seemed like our only option”

Photo by Ian Brown

Stella Li, a 24-year-old software engineer, and Ciara Chute, a 23-year-old assistant controller at a recruiting company, were excited to move into their first place together. But, after hours of scrolling through listings and trying in vain to tour a unit, they began to worry that they’d never find a space that met their needs. Finally, they sought professional help.

True Tales From the Rental Crisis

Stella and I met in 2020. We clicked immediately and kept dating when she left Toronto to finish her master’s degree at the University of Southern Cali­fornia. I stayed to complete my postgraduate program at U of T. We made it work, but we both looked forward to Stella moving back to Ontario—and to moving in together.

Last spring, we finally started looking for our first place. Every other time I’ve rented in the city, it’s taken me about a week to find a place. I didn’t expect it to be any different this time around. I was very wrong. It was a nightmare.

We wanted an apartment downtown, with easy subway access. Stella worked remotely, and I would need to commute to Yonge and Eglinton. Ideally, we’d get a two-bedroom and use the second room as an office. We also wanted an in-suite washer and dryer, plus at least one parking spot. Other amenities, like a pool and gym, would be a bonus. Our budget was roughly $2,600.

Initially, we looked at Church and Wellesley, Cabbagetown, and the Financial District, but we realized that we could only get a small one-bedroom within our budget. Most places were roughly 500 square feet. None of them had a washer and dryer, and parking downtown would’ve been impossible.

By July, it became clear that if we wanted a two-bedroom, we’d need to look uptown, near Yonge and Eglinton. But we couldn’t get a showing anywhere. I spent hours scouring online listings. Looking for a place was like a part-time job. Every time we found a spot that ticked enough of our boxes, it was too late. The place would be on the market in the morning and gone by the evening. Usually, the landlords didn’t even return our voicemails asking to see the apartment.

I had never considered using an agent before. As a renter for the past five years, I’ve always been able to find places by myself, just looking online and touring them. But the market was so tight, so fast-paced, that I thought, This isn’t working for us. Let’s outsource and see what we can find.

So, that month, we connected with a real estate agent named Susan Wen. If she found us something, she’d take a commission from the landlord based on the first month’s rent. Early on, she found us a two-bedroom townhouse on Redpath Avenue. We loved it. Our favourite feature was the private rooftop deck.

On the downside, it was beyond our budget, listed for $2,900. And that didn’t include utilities. We decided to go for it anyway. We put in a bid for the listed price, but there were at least five other offers on the table. The landlord asked if we wanted to up our bid, but we couldn’t stretch our budget any further. It ultimately went for $3,100 a month, utilities still not included.

We visited 10 more places and bid on three of them. We got blown out of the water each time. It felt like we might never find a rental in this crazy market—even after we lowered our expectations and broadened our search to a one-bedroom.

Eventually, Susan found us a one-­bedroom plus den a few blocks from Yonge and Eglinton, listed for $2,650. It had all of the amenities we were looking for: washer and dryer, parking, a gym, and a pool. It also had a balcony. We figured we could convert the den into a home office.

We went for it, putting in a bid at the asking price that afternoon. We were lucky: there was only one other bidder at the table. Plus, we had good credit. When we learned we had won the place, we were ecstatic. We got the keys on September 1.

The area is a perfect mix of city life and calmness, with plenty of shops and restaurants. And we’re close enough to the subway that we have easy access to downtown. After a couple of years of long distance and a hectic rental search, we finally have our first home together.

Have your own story about renting in the GTA? Let us know at [email protected].