I’m moving this month – always an all-consuming and exhausting task.
I’m also a renter, a reality for many people living in the city. Since moving to Toronto in 2004, the prospect of buying a home hasn’t really been a possibility for me – similar to how I know it would be cool to fly like Superman, but it’ll never actually happen. And that was even before the housing market became ridiculous. Scratch that: beyond ridiculous.
The cost of a home in Toronto right now has moved into a realm for which there is no equivalent word in English, and that’s not going to change, no matter how much we try to predict things. I laughed when reading this article in the Huff Post about how “Sanity is returning to the [Toronto housing] marketplace,” according to a Century 21 brokerage owner.
If you call spending over half a million on a one-bedroom condo in a tower built of glass and concrete “sane,” then please mark me down as a crazy man.
Thus, a renter I shall remain.
I’ve had my share of rental apartments here in TO. Some of them good, others not so much. I’ve lived in a scuzzy-cheap, but super-cool place above a store in Kensington; a huge two-bedroom + den + dining room + two patios overlooking the Greenwood subway stop; a brand-new townhouse at Queen & Bathurst that we nicknamed the “cardboard palace” (because that’s basically what it was made of); a back alley coach house that the owner had converted into a seriously sexy bachelor pad with heated floors; and the list goes on.
I’ve always leaned towards renting apartments in houses – which, as I’ve recently discovered, are called “dirty mansions.” This is a personal preference as I realize that others enjoy tall buildings and the uniformity and structure of a more organized rental. While I myself enjoy structure (neglectful landlords are the worst), I could never give up having outdoor space and the ability to step out of my home and be instantly in the world, where there is grass and trees and birds. I also enjoy planting flowers in the spring and watching them grow over the summer.
Dirty mansion apartments tend to be cheaper, as well, and each unique unto itself. They are characters in a book, quirks and all. This is good in some ways, but not others. Take individual landlords, for example. Some I’ve had have been lovely. Others, not so much. One apartment I lived in was so hot that I asked the landlord to put in ceiling fans, to which he responded: “I’m not obligated to do that.”
Why is it that landlords ask us for references, but we don’t ask them? It’s a big gamble, renting from some dude you just met after answering an ad on Viewit. Sure, there are laws protecting tenants, but this isn’t a cabin we’re renting for the weekend – it’s a year-long lease.
Why can’t we test drive an apartment for a night before renting it?
You also never know who your neighbours are going to be, i.e., the people you’re effectively sharing your home with. I currently live below the three loudest people I’ve ever encountered in my 37 years on this planet – two “adults” and a constantly-runs-across-the-floor toddler. As someone who needs a quiet space to recharge from the noisy world, it has not been easy managing the constant imposition of these people and their noise pollution.
But there are so many great things, as well. My new dirty mansion apartment is massive – bigger than I could ever imagine being able to afford. It’s downtown. It’s full of sunlight. It has its own working fireplace. I’ve got my own, huge, private rooftop patio with a view to downtown. It’s also built to last, circa 1889, a time when architecture was about building homes to be lived in, rather than building homes just to sell them.
What I’m most excited about is that, for the first time in my life, my new apartment has an office space, one with a Juliette balcony over-looking a colourful street lined with trees. This will be a place to write, to think, to come up with the big ideas – a true privilege.
It’s also not perfect. The place is carpeted. I’ve had to do quite a bit of cleaning, including renting a carpet cleaner and scrubbing the kitchen down to a pulp – getting rid of the traces of those who lived there before me. I don’t yet know who my neighbours are either, but I do know that there’s no one living above me (since I’m on the top two floors of the house). The space below me is an office, which will be empty at night.
It’s also not mine, either. Perhaps this is the biggest differentiator between buying and renting – that one is owned, while the other is not. But how much of “ownership” is a mindset? I understand that owning is also about investing money, while renting can feel like you’re throwing yours away. But I’ve also read that, in countries like Germany, renting is the norm because the system is set up to make it a practical option. While we have laws on paper here that protect tenants, do they practically translate to the real-world experience of renting?
But no matter where I’ve rented, I’ve always followed one guideline: Make wherever you live, whether you rent or buy, your home.
Cheers to another year of renting.