I Moved 10 Times in 18 Years. Here’s What It’s Really Like To Rent As A Single Woman In Toronto

I’ve lived in rundown, older buildings with bugs and rodents, and in apartments where promises were made for refurbishment. I’ve battled a landlord who took advantage of his tenants. And I’m exhausted.
By Loreto Cisterna
A moving box in a living room with a roll of packing tape on top (Photo: iStock)

Ten. That’s the number of apartments in Toronto I’ve lived in since 2005. I’ve lived in rundown, older buildings with bugs and rodents. I’ve lived where promises were made for refurbishment. I was left battling a landlord who took advantage of his tenants and didn’t care about the post-flood mold in the basement bedroom and squirrels moving in. Could it have been worse? Sure. Am I exhausted? Absolutely!

As a woman living alone in a big city, safety has always been my priority when choosing a home. This generally meant looking for places that had security in place and often led to renting a condo—a matchbox in the sky, if you will.

In 2005, a few years after working downtown at a media organization and landing a permanent full-time gig, my first apartment, just shy of 500 square feet and boring builder beige, gave me a sense of freedom—even if I was paying someone else’s mortgage. I was finally an adult in my own space, paying my own bills, and I wasn’t at the mercy of a commuting schedule as I could walk to work. At the time, student loans, job insecurity and debts made owning property an unattainable reality. I still feel the same now; even with job security, it’s hard to become a property owner in Toronto outside of a two-income household. Three years in a row I lived in condos where the owners sold their property or wanted to move back in.

Each year, reasonable rental options dwindled. (In May 2023, the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto was more than $2,500.) When looking for a new place, the number of times I was asked if I could afford the rent or if my “spouse” was going to apply was irritating. Would a man have been asked the same? In most cases, the price of rent was only one full paycheque—if I was lucky. The process felt like a reality show where you had to outbid your competitors for a rental. So, I settled for what I could get, what I could afford. Often.

In 2014, after living in six places for a year or less each, I finally landed in a 550-square-foot unit that I loved by the ferry docks along Toronto’s waterfront. It didn’t tick all of my boxes, but it made me happy for six years, the longest I had stayed anywhere. Then 2020 hit. Everything changed. At the start of the pandemic, lockdown gave me extra time to learn new skills. I became obsessed with DIY. I built furniture. I refurbished and sold furniture. I bought power tools! I realized I needed a different kind of space.

Working from home also made the walls feel like they were closing in. I needed a bigger place, preferably with some outdoor space, where I could breathe and separate my workday from “me” time. The rental prices had begun to temporarily cool, so, in my excitement, I picked a place smack in Toronto’s downtown core with upgrades (den, balcony, in-unit laundry), but wasn’t suited to the lifestyle I now had. There wasn’t a workspace for my new woodworking hobby. I was older, but not wiser. Less than a year in, I knew I wasn’t going to last there.


I decided that I needed to step outside my comfort zone and rent the main floor of a house in Toronto’s east end. I wanted some outdoor space to work on projects. What happened to my need for security? Until that moment, I was afraid of living in a house alone. I grew up in apartments, and that’s where I felt safe. My parents bought their first house when I was 14, but even then, I often checked doors and locks to feel secure. Fast forward to 2021. A fascination with true crime plus being a woman living alone meant I was definitely going to be the target of the local serial killer, right? I fully understand how silly this sounds. I was in a beautiful and safe family neighbourhood, but it didn’t have the peace I was looking for. Sometimes it was too quiet; sometimes it was louder than I could handle. I never truly felt settled. I stopped my projects. The beautiful old trees blocked the sunlight I craved. I was further away from my family and friends than I wanted to be, and I felt frustrated and trapped. Again.

After years of feeling unsettled in rentals, could I have saved up and put a down payment on something? Maybe. If I could go back in time, make different life choices, would I have bought a new condo in 2004 when I had the chance to enter the market? With the real estate market as it is, inflated and obscene, maybe I could have sold big and gotten ahead by now. But that condo took five years to build, and I couldn’t actually afford the mortgage. I also had other dreams to travel and see the world. So, I live with the result of my choices and the possibility of never owning a home.

In 2022, I moved into apartment number 10, back in a 700-square-foot condo up in the sky. It’s $600 more than my past unit, a price I’ve been able to offset with the lack of travelling I’ve done since 2019. It’s not downtown but in the west end, and it’s closer to my circle of loved ones. I have a view to die for—an unobstructed lake view!—and all the sunshine my plants and I need. The creative juices are flowing once again, and I am hopeful. I just hope that I can stay here until it’s my choice to leave. Until then, I live in fear that I may have to pack up and do it all again next year.

Originally published January 2023; updated February 2024.


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