No fixed address: How I became a 32-year-old couch surfer

CBC Toronto reporter Shannon Martin's rent shot up nearly $1,000 per month, so now she bounces around between family and friends. She's just one of many young professionals struggling in Toronto's "bananas" rental market.

Shannon Martin's rent shot up nearly $1K a month, now she bounces around between family, friends

We all know buying in Toronto is a nightmare, but have you tried renting lately? For the next couple of weeks, reporter Shannon Martin looks at the precarious life of a renter. Warning: it's not pretty. (Petar Valkov/CBC Toronto)

I'm 32 years old, work at my dream job and have an amazing circle of family and friends who love me. Life is pretty great.

There's just one thing — and I can't believe I'm about to admit this to you, but here goes.

Right now, I live nowhere in particular.

I'm a couch surfer.

For the record, I did have a nice place. But then my rent went up nearly $1,000 per month.

Let's backtrack for a moment.

I arrived in Toronto in 2011 from the prairies; bright eyed, ambitious and totally naive. Chasing a childhood dream to live, work, and build a life in what I believe is the best city in the world. Almost everyone back home peppered me with questions: isn't Toronto too big, too loud, and most of all, too expensive?

I sold my home in Winnipeg, where owning property in your 20s and 30s is more doable, before moving to Toronto in 2011. (Shannon Martin)

"I'll make it work," I said, having no idea what that actually meant.

I managed to, for the first few years. Living with my then-boyfriend, we split the rent and bills.

When we broke up, I was suddenly alone in the big city.

No problem, I told myself.

'I'll make it work'

Downtown is full of young professionals, just like me. We work hard, play harder. It's what we do.

Hustle.

I moved into my teeny tiny 454-square-foot apartment in January 2016. Small but cute — just like me, I joked to anyone who'd listen.

At $1,650 a month, plus hydro, things were tight. But, swapping stories over $1-an-ounce red wine at Gusto with my girlfriends, I quickly realized I was far from alone.

CBC reporter Shannon Martin and tenant advocate Bahar Shadpour discuss the precarious life of a renter in Canada's biggest city 8:19

Whether we work in media, pharmacy or public relations, most of us are forking well over 50 per cent of our paycheque to put a roof over our heads.

Whether we work in media, pharmacy or public relations, most of us are forking well over 50 per cent of our paycheque to put a roof over our heads.

Then my lease renewal arrived in late September.

I anticipated a bump in rent and was already making a mental list of expenses I could axe (who needs Wi-Fi when I could "borrow" from the restaurant next door?).

I opened the email from my property manager and there it was in black and white.

My rent was soaring $950 a month to an astronomical $2,600.

At first I laughed. It had to be a typo. A misprint. 

Above guide rental increases are perfectly legal, depending where you live.

But as I scrolled through the PDF and saw the amount repeated, any laughter died, as Drake would say, into a dry cry ('cause I'm hopeless.)

'You're screwed'

I called the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board and the guy who answered my call broke it down for me in two words:

You're screwed.

Real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder confirmed the worst of it.

"You're at the whim of your landlord," he told me.

"It can be a real painful surprise for tenants."

The painful surprise is that if you live in a building that is 25 years old or less, you have no rent-control protection.

Under Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act, rental units built after November 1991 are exempt from the annual Rent Increase Guideline aka rent control.

Rent increases at renewal time, 20 to 30 per cent or in my case much much more, is something many Torontonians are now dealing with, especially in the downtown core, where so many of us want to live.

Geordie Dent, with the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says his organization gets a "steady stream" of annual rent increases that exceed the guidelines set by the province.

And that's not all. 

There are bidding wars for basement apartments, open houses with line-ups around the block. 

"Toronto's rental market is bananas," Dent tells me, shrugging his shoulders.

If you're renting in the downtown core in a newer condominium tower, chances are you aren't protected by rent control. (John Rieti/CBC)

Average GTA condo rent: $2K per month

And, unfortunately, it only gets more grim.

We're paying more than ever, too.

According to Urbanation Inc, which tracks everything condo related in the GTA, the average condo rent for a one-bedroom is now about $2,000 a month.

That's up 12 per cent from the year before.

How much did your salary increase last year? That's what I thought.

Share your stories

For me, I had no choice but to move. I packed everything into storage, and now I'm floating around until I figure out the future.

But here's what keeps me up at night: I have a good job, I've saved some cash.

I'm fortunate I have family and friends who'll put me up  for a couple weeks at a time.

What about students? Single moms? People who work two or three jobs just to make ends meet? How are you getting by?

Share your stories about trying to find housing in this city. I'll look for solutions and examine what the future may hold.

Here's how you can get in touch:

​Email me at Shannon.Martin@CBC.ca or join our Facebook group and be a part of the conversation. 

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

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