My terrible, expensive apartment makes me wish I’d never moved to Toronto
In 2017, I was 24 years old and living in Cambridge, with my parents. I’d just landed a graphic design job with a marketing company in downtown Toronto, and my commute was miserable. The fastest way into the city each morning was a Greyhound bus. Depending on traffic, I’d sometimes be in transit for as long as two and a half hours, one way. And then I’d work eight hours and do it all over again.
Clearly, it was time to move downtown. When I told my parents I was leaving, they were like, “Why? Can’t you just work remotely?” I could have, but I wanted the experience of working from an office. I was stubborn. I packed my things.
My office, at the time, was in Leslieville, and I knew I wanted to live nearby. In Cambridge, there are beautiful one-bedroom apartments for not even $1,200. In Toronto, I was finding similar places for upwards of $3,000.
I was making about $41,000 a year. But I had student loans, from two stints in post-secondary. Other people my age can sometimes lean on their parents for rent money, but my parents are retired, and I have three older siblings. The bank of mom and dad ran dry years ago. Within days of browsing listings, I was feeling utterly defeated by the prices I was seeing. I knew moving to Toronto was going to be expensive, but I didn’t think it would be so expensive.
When I was at my most dejected, one of my co-workers mentioned to me that he was giving up his apartment to move to a different part of the city. The place was up for grabs, and I could have it if I wanted it. The location was perfect—just a short distance from the office.
I went to tour the apartment with a friend. It was a wreck. It was on the second floor of a semi that had been converted into a triplex. The only way in was up a steep, makeshift staircase made of wood planks and chain-link fencing. Inside was a tiny, dated kitchen, just large enough for a table with two chairs. A narrow hallway—if you were drunk, you could easily just bounce off the walls walking down it—led to a bathroom with no doorknob, just a sliding latch. There was a small bedroom, with an accordion-style door, and a living room.
I wasn’t sold on the place, for obvious reasons, but my friend was very sure that leasing this specific apartment was the right thing to do. She pointed out that the stress I had been enduring for the past few months, commuting back and forth to Cambridge, was only going to worsen over time. She had a point, I thought. So I signed a lease, for $1,340 per month.
Even that was too much for my finances. I had been commiserating about housing with a 27-year-old co-worker I’ll call Bart (he asked that his name not be used here). He was crashing with a family friend, and we had talked about possibly finding a place together. So, four months after taking possession of the apartment, I asked him to move in with me and split the rent.
The first challenge was finding a way for us to physically divide the one-bedroom apartment. I ended up claiming the living room as a bedroom, because it’s larger than the actual bedroom and I have more stuff. He took the bedroom, meaning the only remaining common spaces were the kitchen and bathroom.
We debated whether to buy mattresses. The idea of sleeping on a firm, comfortable surface every night was appealing. On the other hand, there would have been no way to carry a full-sized mattress up the apartment’s rickety stairs. I could have bought something like a Casper mattress off the internet, but then I would have had no way to remove it from the apartment when we left. So I’ve spent the past year sleeping on an air mattress.
On the plus side, the impossible entry meant the previous tenant left plenty of furniture behind. I inherited a dresser and a big desk that he had assembled inside the apartment. He told me he almost died lugging the pieces up the stairs.
The landlords, a husband and wife, live on the first floor, and within days of moving in I learned that they were not big on upkeep. There was a leak underneath the kitchen sink, and I would often find water on the floor when I woke up in the morning. When I inquired about it, the wife asked, “What happened to the big bucket under the sink?” I had thrown it out when I moved in, because I didn’t know why it was there. The solution? Get another big bucket.
It was so bad. I had to scour the bathtub free of mould and replace the shredded screens on the windows and doors, because the lease specified that any repairs under $50 were my responsibility. Once, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. We found out the next day there had been a gas leak in the apartment above ours, which the landlords had somehow patched up by themselves, without calling a technician.
After a while, we stopped asking the landlords for help, because we were worried we’d make things worse. We could overhear them complaining about our neediness through the floors.
Life in the apartment eventually settled into a not-very-satisfying rhythm. There was no living room, so if Bart and I wanted to watch TV together, we’d both have to sit on my bed. We took turns cooking, because there wasn’t enough room for two people to do it at once. Sometimes we’d eat together at the desk in my room. Sometimes I’d just eat alone on the air mattress.
We’re both single, so the apartment could be like a revolving door. Bart would have a girl over, and she’d be leaving just as my date was leaving. Sometimes the two dates hadn’t met, so they’d have to introduce themselves to one another in the hallway as they were squeezing out the door.
Even though my relationship with Bart was strictly platonic, we were living and working together, so we ended up spending a lot of time around one another. We’d normally eat dinner together after work, and we’d keep each other company while we ran errands. In order to keep ourselves sane, though, we tried to pursue separate hobbies. Sometimes he’d go to the gym right away after work, so we’d have at least a couple hours apart.
In February, our landlords capped off a year of less-than-stellar landlording by asking us to move out of the apartment, so that a family member of theirs could move in. We weren’t sure whether or not there really was a family member, but we didn’t wait to find out. After a few weeks of searching we found a new place in a condo tower near Jarvis and Dundas. We would have preferred a two-bedroom suite, but, to save money, we had to settle for a one-plus-den, meaning our days of cramped living aren’t going to be over any time soon. At least now I can have a real bed.
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