It’s a long story, a boring and confusing one.

I bought a house with my ex, who wasn’t my ex then, in late 2004, in Toronto. At that point we had been together for eleven years. A bunch of chaos happened, then more things happened that didn’t make sense, and in late 2015 the house was going to be sold.

I needed to find a place to live, fast. I went all over the city looking for the most amount of space for the least amount of money. If you have not looked for an apartment in Toronto in the last century, well, there are some surprises waiting there for you.

One place seemed promising. The ad was on Craigslist. The viewing was scheduled for 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, which I though was odd. It was a couple of blocks from the subway.

The street was pretty dark, and I noticed there seemed to be a whole bunch of people on the sidewalk, where I was walking to. I thought since it was Saturday night, that maybe it was an early party ? This turned out to be at least 50 people waiting in line to view the apartment. I was one of the oldest people there. There was a lot of buzzing in the line, and no one was happy about the competitive rental situation. At least 20 people showed up after me.

The lights were on in the house, but no one was allowed in. Finally a short dude in his late 30’s or so came out on the porch. He shouted to everyone in line that small groups of people would be allowed in to view the apartment(s) for rent, and he would be accepting applications.

Once inside, the landlord explained that he had just taken possession of this house this evening. He wouldn’t tell anyone his name. He told the group that while the photos he had posted on CL showed this apartment as being the whole main floor and a basement, that now the front room belonged to the upstairs apartment, and that he was going to be installing a new wall between the rooms, but the rent was the same as what he had posted.

The house was in rough shape. It was a typical Toronto late 1800’s house, a semi detached Victorian, a skinny one. The plaster walls were lumpy and cracked, and definitely had not been painted since the 1970’s. The kitchen had a very old original cabinet – so rare in Toronto – geriatric vinyl flooring, and was primitive. The basement had the bedroom, the bathroom and an extra room. People ahead of me who were going down the stairs were making lots of sounds, unhappy sounds.

The bathroom was the most incredible bathroom I had ever seen. It was built in a corner of the barely finished basement, with a ceiling height of just under 6 feet tall. The walls for the shower were the rough unfinished brick from the foundation, with I think some kind of terra cotta tiles for the floor ? The bedroom was similarly grim, with a tiny old window. Building code states that any houses with bedrooms in the basement need an egress window. I doubted that my whole body could even fit through this window. If there was a fire I guessed I would just roast alive.

Plenty of folks were speaking with the landlord, credit reports, payment stubbs and cheques in hand. Even for one less room than advertised, with another apartment upstairs, and a garage apartment across the tiny yard, people were desperate to rent this. I think the rent was $ 1150 per month, plus $ 150/month for utilities. For Toronto in the fall of 2015 this was a great deal.

The apartment I finally rented – after many inquiries – was above a storefront on a busy street. The owner was another dude in his 30’s, a realtor. He had plans to make my apartment into an Air B n B, but it needed to be renovated first. I hoped that I would only be in the apartment for a couple of months, while the legal stuff from the house was sorted out.

The apartment was rundown, with a hole cut in the wall for a plumbing upgrade. The apartment had not been occupied for months, and the windows had been left open all summer. There were piles of dirt on the floor and everything was grimy.  There was a sad brown sectional that took up most of one room, and other small piles of abandoned garbage. The landlord claimed it was 1000 square feet. It could best be described as a two bedroom with a dining room. It was multiple rooms, small rooms. The best thing was that it had windows on three sides. The building next door was one story tall, so this made the second floor apartment bright. The landlord proudly showed me the “deck” – which was actually a rooftop with no railings. He said that I would be sharing this with the apartment upstairs and the business below. He warned me multiple times that I shouldn’t walk on the “deck” wearing high heels as this would damage the tar roofing. The door to this deck didn’t fit properly and had to be wrenched open. Inexplicably it was an interior door, with a layer of plywood glued and nailed on each side that made it weigh a ton. This was in the kitchen.

For this I had to sign a 13 page lease, and go through multiple negotiations with the landlord. In retrospect, this was nuts. The last time I had rented an apartment was in 1993, in Vancouver. My ex had rented the Toronto apartment in 1998. I thought maybe I was just unfamiliar with how things worked in Toronto rentals ? Rent was $ 1500.00 per month plus utilities. The vacancy rate was very low. This was the best I could do, all things considered.

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