Cross Country Checkup

'Lined up around the block': Renters struggle to find 'decent' spaces

As home prices rise, so do the costs of rental units across the country — and they’re expected to rise. Monthly rents across Canada rose by 6 per cent in January, according to the February National Rent Report.

Monthly rents in Canada rose by 6 per cent in January, says recent report

The market for rental units is an increasingly competitive space. According to Toronto actor Nicholas Surges, potential tenants went as far as offering small gifts to landlords. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Nicholas Surges stood in lines with his roommate all over Toronto for five-and-a-half months.

They weren't there for the launch of a cool, new product or to meet a famous author. They were trying to see an apartment.

"We had everything in order. We had guarantors. We had references. We had the kind of standardized application information — chequebooks in hand," Surges, 28, told Cross Country Checkup.

"Wherever we went ... people lined up around the block looking to view a single, tiny, little apartment."

As home prices rise, so do the costs of rental units across the country — and it's expected to continue.

Nicholas Surges spent nearly six months looking for an apartment in Toronto with his roommate. (Submitted by Nicholas Surges)

According to the February National Rent Report, with data compiled from Rentals.ca, rents rose by six per cent from Dec. 2017 to Jan. 2018 with a median monthly rent of $1,747.

Toronto saw the highest rents in the country, with a one-bedroom going to $2,149 per month, on average. Newfoundland and Labrador ranks as the most affordable place to rent.

On my salary ... I wasn't really going to be able to ever afford to buy a place in the city.- Robin Sutherland

For Surges, an actor who moved to Toronto five years ago from Ottawa, he says living in Toronto is crucial to his career development.

"We're scraping by, but we are both artists," Surges said of his roommate and himself. "It's difficult because big cities like Toronto are where you really have to be here to pursue a passion like that."

13 years for a down payment

Young renters are facing an unprecedented market as rental demand increases — and homes are increasingly being used for short-term rentals like Airbnb — hiking monthly rates, according to Paul Kershaw. He's the founder of Generation Squeeze, a non-profit that raises awareness about the economic pressure faced by younger Canadians.

Meanwhile, younger Canadians struggle to save enough for a down payment. Kershaw says that, on average, it takes Canadians 13 years to save a 20 per cent down payment.

"That is effectively making hard work not pay off, and the implication is more younger people have to count on renting for longer periods of their lives," he told Checkup.

Paul Kershaw, of the University of Bristish Columbia, says that younger Canadians are choosing to rent out of necessity. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

It's a familiar story for Robin Sutherland who, at 19, moved to Toronto from northern Ontario.

She worked her way through an undergrad at University of Toronto and shared an apartment with roommates into her mid-20s while working in the not-for-profit arts sector.

"It was hard finding a place that was affordable and decent to live in," she recalled. "We lived in some fairly sketchy places; had some pretty sketchy landlords."

After years of paying sky-high rent, Sutherland, 34, relocated to be with her partner in Desbarats, Ont., a town 40 minutes from Sault Ste. Marie.

"I've always been a very outdoorsy person and loved gardening and I knew that I wanted to have a property where there was lots of land," she said.

"On my salary, and the salaries I was likely to have in my field, I wasn't really going to be able to ever afford to buy a place in the city."

Robin Sutherland moved from a small, Toronto apartment to a 64 hectare property in Desbarats, Ont. Among the reasons was a lack of affordable and 'decent' rental properties. (Submitted by Robin Sutherland)

Competitive market

Aside from spending months going from open house to open house, Surges faced a competitive market. Some renters, he said, would bring small gifts like a bottle of wine for the landlord.

But Surges and his roommate also experienced some unexpected and uncomfortable turns.

"My roommate viewed a place and the man who was showing it to her … said, 'Yeah, yeah, there are nine people in front of you if you really are interested in this place you're gonna have to do something really special,'" Surges recalled.

After a lengthy search, Surges and his roommate found an apartment in east Toronto paying around $1,500 for a two-bedroom flat — "That's a pretty good price for Toronto," he said.

Even at that price, however, he's not out of the clear.

"It is kind of a paycheque-to-paycheque situation," he said.

"It's not like I've been able to save up enough rent for a month if something were to go wrong."

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