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Gen Y Money 100-square-foot apartments and 5-foot-10 ceilings: Harrowing tales of millennials renting in Toronto

The Toronto rental market is one of the most depressing stories in personal finance.

Millennials renting in Toronto were invited in my e-mail newsletter last week to write me about their experiences. Dozens of people, millennials and their parents as well, responded with stories about awful living conditions, bad landlords and high prices that make life unaffordable. What follows is a selection of responses divided into several different themes on living as a renter in Canada’s most populous city.

There are some gross rentals out there

Sacha Ruzzante recently went looking for an apartment with a rent budget of $1,000 or so. He saw one place near University of Toronto that was about 100 square feet in size, with a kitchen that consisted of a hotplate (no kitchen sink). Another rental was a tiny room in a six-bedroom house, with each room occupied by one or two people; still another place had ceilings four inches shorter than he is (he’s 6-foot-2). He eventually found a place for $1,100. “Parts of it are too short for me, but most of it is okay.”

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Some landlords are really pushing it

Harleen Bindra moved to Toronto from Kingston in 2017 after completing her education and paid $800 a month for a townhouse she shared with two roommates. The landlord lived in the basement. “He would enter our place randomly without asking or informing, whether we were at home or not,” she wrote. “I felt unsafe and insecure all the time.”

Next stop: A two-bedroom condo downtown for $2,500 a month plus utilities, which consumed half her income despite having a roommate. “Just when I learned to manage my expenses well, the landlord suddenly decided to sell his condo.” Ms. Bindra now shares a two-bedroom apartment downtown, which she describes as more reasonable than the others.

Alex Eddy, who lives with his girlfriend in a one-bedroom apartment, wrote to highlight how tough landlords are about choosing tenants. “I joked when we searched for our apartment that it was harder to get a landlord’s approval to rent than it was for me to get the job that brought me to Toronto [from Halifax],” he wrote. “I was expected to provide previous landlord references, previous employer references, proof of employment, proof of income and photos of my employee ID cards.”

There are creative solutions …

A reader who asked to be referred to only as Graham said he found a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house in an upscale neighbourhood near the subway on the Realtor.ca website. He shares the place with four friends and everyone pays an average $840 per person to cover the rent of $3,950 a month plus utilities. “The house is occupied by young professionals, with three working in Toronto, one commuting east of the city, and another commuting west of the city,” Graham said by e-mail.

Sue Yardley is a single mother of two sons in their twenties who live with her and worry that they will never be able to afford to live on their own in Toronto. When the small mortgage remaining on her home is paid off, the three of them might buy a large house where each would have their own space. Or, they might renovate the current home to turn it into a three-unit residence. “The other option would be for all of us to move to a smaller community where housing is more affordable, and we are also considering that.”

… but some want out of Toronto

“I am a millennial with a decent salary and, between my rent and student loans, Toronto has become impossible,” one woman wrote. “I am planning on leaving the city because the grind is just not worth it.”

She said her rent of $1,350 monthly will rise to $1,695 for the next tenant. “I tried to give the inside track to a friend who is a manager at a popular tech company and he can't afford to take it.”

Gen Xers are also affected

A 42-year-old reader named Martin said the high-rent problem goes beyond millennials to include “anyone who was not fortunate enough to ride up the real estate wave over the past 15 years.”

His story: He rents a bungalow in a west-end Toronto neighbourhood with his wife and young children for $2,350 plus utilities, which he says is well below market rent. Still, there’s nothing left over after covering the cost of utilities, groceries, child care and contributions to registered education savings plans for his children.

“My wife and I have arrived at the conclusion that on my $155,000 a year salary we’ve been priced out of the city,” he said. “This is a sad statement about the situation in Toronto and I’m among the very fortunate.”

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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