I’ve lived in 11 different apartments in the past seven years
One woman’s rental odyssey
I never intended to become a nomad. When I moved to Toronto in 2012, at 25, to do my master’s degree in immigration and settlement studies at Ryerson, the plan was simple. I had been dating a guy for about a year and a half. We were going to move into a $1,200-per-month Forest Hill apartment together with our pets—two birds, Moe and Murtle; a turtle, Shelley; and two cats, Potato and Spud—and stay there indefinitely.
Little did I know that a combination of changing life circumstances, bad landlords and sky-high rents would have me averaging 1.5 apartments per year by the time I turned 29.
My boyfriend and I met at the University of Ottawa, and neither of us had lived in Toronto before. We didn’t realize that Forest Hill was located so far north of downtown, but we liked our home and the relaxed vibe of the neighbourhood. Everything was working out well.
And then, six months later, we broke up.
Neither of us could afford to move out, so we co-existed awkwardly. I couldn’t date because it was too awkward; he couldn’t hang out with our mutual friends without me knowing. After two months, I was ready to leave, even if it meant making sacrifices. I left my couch, bed, coffee table and TV behind. My boyfriend kept most of the pets. I packed up my clothes and put Potato the cat—who I got to keep—in a carrier.
I couldn’t afford much, so I jumped at the first cheap housing I saw. It was a $400 room in a basement apartment in Baldwin Village. I had two housemates—a pair of girls I’d never met before. One of them never left her room. The other was a teenager. We did not become friends. My bedroom was so small that even with a loft bed I could barely squeeze in a dresser and desk.
After a few months, I started browsing online rental listings again. I had started bartending and doing some TA work at Ryerson, and I thought it might be possible, if I stretched my budget, for me to live by myself. The most I could spend was $800.
I was hoping to live close to the downtown core, but I ended up leasing a place in the Beaches, because it was cheap enough. It was a very small studio apartment on the ground floor of an old home. I wasn’t near school or work, but I could at least console myself with the fact that I was walking distance from Queen Street and the east-end waterfront.
I ran out of patience for my commute when I started a co-op at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that required me to spend an hour each way on the streetcar. I took a hard look at my finances and decided I could probably just barely afford to live in an $1,100-per-month one-bedroom apartment in Trinity-Bellwoods that I’d found on Craigslist.
It was on the second floor of a home. It was big and beautiful. There was no door separating the upper unit from the lower unit, where the landlord lived—which was bothersome but not a dealbreaker. The landlord was adamant that no pets were allowed in the apartment, so I was forced to get rid of Potato. The woman who took over my Beaches apartment adopted her.
I bought a bunch of new furniture. On move-in day, my mom helped me set everything up and then stayed the night. The next morning, she mentioned to me that she had heard some mysterious noises coming from the kitchen. That night, I had three friends over for a housewarming dinner. As we were sitting at the table, I noticed three baby rats crawling out of my new stove.
I told my landlord about the little family of rodents. She put a bunch of sticky traps around the apartment. They were almost too effective: we caught about 15 rats over the course of the next week. I could hear them squealing in the middle of the night. Sometimes, while I was watching TV, I’d see two or three of them dash across the floor in front of me. I asked the landlord to call a professional pest control company, but she refused.
After three weeks, I was ready to move again. The landlord tried to withhold my last month’s rent, but I got her to relent by threatening to take her to the Landlord and Tenant Board.
I set a budget of $1,200 and ended up finding a studio apartment in a condo tower in Liberty Village. The place was 350 square feet—so tiny that I had to put a lot of my newly purchased furniture in storage. But it was, at least, brand new and in decent repair, with access to a gym and a sauna.
My master’s program was over and, after a few months, I decided I wanted to travel. I found someone to sublet the apartment while I went to Europe. When I got back, one of my best friends invited me to live with her in a two-bedroom apartment in Little Portugal above a hardware store. My share of the rent, she told me, would be just $700, which seemed like a bargain. And this was one housemate I knew I’d get along with. But a year later, her boyfriend moved in. Once again, I packed my things and moved—this time into a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a house in Bloor West Village, for $1,100 per month. The landlord lived downstairs and would constantly complain about the sound of my footsteps. I might have stayed if it hadn’t been for the long commute downtown.
I went to tour a $1,400-per-month place near Bloor and Bathurst. I was the first to arrive, but within minutes, a lineup of dozens of other apartment-seekers formed behind me at the doorstep. I handed the landlord a cheque on the spot. Then I found a new boyfriend. He was over a lot, and the floor plan was too tight for the two of us—plus I had just landed a full-time job at CAMH and was making roughly $65,000.
I found a one-bedroom apartment on the main floor of a house in Little Italy. It was $1,700 per month, but it was a luxurious (to me, at least) 600 square feet. The lease was a little odd: the $1,700 was a “discounted price” that I would receive in exchange for cutting the lawn and taking out the garbage. That didn’t seem difficult to me, so I signed.
At the end of the first year, the landlord told me he was ending the discount. Effectively, he was exploiting a dubious loophole to raise my rent well beyond the legal limit. (I later found out that he had done this to a number of previous tenants.) Rather than fight him, I decided to move out.
My next apartment was just down the street—a one-bedroom apartment with a balcony. But it was $1,850 per month, which was too much even on my new salary. I would have loved to stay, but my dwindling bank account was telling me to go.
In September, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a house in Parkdale. It has a spacious living area and a balcony with beautiful views of Lake Ontario. When I signed the $1,200-a-month lease, I asked the previous tenant about the landlord and the pest situation: all clear. I hope this place will be mine for a long time—but I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.