I lived in various Toronto squalors throughout my early 20s before I finally secured what I deemed to be "enough money" to rent a unit in a downtown high-rise, at which point, I realized what I thought would be a an impressive milestone was, in fact, the dumbest decision I had made in years.
It was the summer of 2018. I had just booked a mildly embarrassing H&R Block commercial that had mercifully prevented my savings accounts from starving to death, and I was strolling around Yorkville with my best friend and a completely unearned chip on my shoulder.
I was trying to convince him to move to the big city by exclusively showing him where the willing recipients of old money lived, and boy, did it ever work like a charm. Soon we were both living "that high-rise life" which, to us, meant handing over the lion's share of our paycheques to rent and pretending we were handsome.
What followed was an endless furry of financial kicks to the groin, which, of course, could've been swiftly avoided if someone had simply told me the truth about living in a high-rise Toronto building on a lower-middle class budget, before I had been stupid enough to do it, which is why I'm here telling you now.
Waiting for the elevators is painful
I won't name the apartment complex my friend and I moved into, but I want you to know that I, along with hundreds of others, have since given it a glowing one-star review on Yelp. And it felt good, dude.
I would guess that a good quarter of that online scorn could be linked to the building's horrendous elevator system and how the on-site management chose to operate them.
During the countless minutes of my life that I wasted waiting for those janky lifts, I often daydreamed about what the rental company's slogan must be. I always imagined something along the lines of, "patience is a virtue, and always remember, we don't actually care about you."
To be fair, our apartment did have four elevators and when they were all available, supposedly everything worked fine. However, I can't recall a single day when all of them did.
Management had this winning strategy of allowing two of them to be reserved all day, every day, for maintenance workers and movers. So, really there were only two working elevators for over 20 floors of people, which was rough when life was normal and became impossible when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
Worse yet, during lockdown, our building only allowed two people in an elevator at a time, so I'd regularly have to wait in line for 15 minutes just to squeeze into an elevator with one other person. That's a lot of awkward small talk.
Imagine getting back from a night of drinking with friends and then having to wait in line to go home. Never again.
Moving in and out requires weeks of planning
My first apartment in Toronto was a basement bachelor, my second was fully furnished. So, I'd pretty much managed to raise a loving middle-finger to the whole actually-planning-to-move thing during my first few years in the city.
However, setting up a life 20 stories off the ground is a different beast. It requires a lot of careful planning because if you don't have a service elevator booked, you're dead in the water. And not in the fun, total erosion of responsibly way, either.
Luckily, as I mentioned above, my building's elevator system swung heavily in favour of the people moving in, so long as you booked it in time, you were good. My roommate, not me, smartly booked our time slot six weeks in advance, on the advice of his Type A mother, so we managed to pull off moving in without much hassle.
However, we didn't prepare nearly as well for the move-out, which forced us to rely on the kindness of strangers while delicately avoiding a revolt.
Fire alarms happen way too often
Call me paranoid, but I always assume there's an actual inferno going on when I hear a fire alarm. Which, in my building, meant walking down 20 flights of stairs to get to the lobby, usually just in time to watch fire crews flip a switch and be on their way.
I had to do this so often that it became something of a bi-monthly ritual for me. A little anxiety-induced cardio to get my blood pumping, if you will.
I really wish someone had told me that living in a building with that many people would mean dealing with a lot of false alarms and stair master sessions, but they didn't.
So, I'm telling you right now, be prepared for it. Don't skip leg day.
Laundry day is the worst
Here's a tidbit of advice that'll save you all kinds of misery — don't rent a place in a high rise unless it has in-unit laundry machines. Otherwise, you could end up in a similar situation that I did, venturing weekly to a dingy dungeon of a room twenty floors below where you're at.
Our building's washers were so out of the way that the laundry room had a bathroom, which would've been nice if it hadn't been out of service for the entire three years that I lived there.
Washing clothes is an annoying chore on its own. You either do it or live in filth, but living in a high-rise turned the relatively hassle-free process into a full-on task for me.
It made me weary, and I've since spent many a late-night apartment searching for an affordable listing that includes the elusive descriptor — washer and dryer in-unit.
Having a great view of the city isn't everything
The high-rise unit my roommate and I lived in offered a stunning view of downtown Toronto. We could see it all from our living room and were convinced it would give us clout.
It did not. Despite me pointing it out like a loser every time, the romantic partners I brought home barely batted an eyelash.
One of them even said that they liked my old place, which overlooked a literal pile of trash, a lot better. Money well spent.
And, I'm ashamed to admit that after a few months of living there, even I hardly noticed it anymore. The novelty disappeared, and I realized it was not worth what I was paying for it.
Pigeons will poop nonstop on your balcony
Who doesn't want a balcony? A tiny sliver of the great outdoors that you can drink beers on and shoot the breeze. That's what I had envisioned, anyway.
The hard reality was my roommate and I constantly shooing off flocks of pigeons who were determined to turn our balcony into their communal bathroom.
Picture me down on my hands and knees, scrubbing bird poop off the concrete with bleach every week, shaking my fist at my past self for never thinking anything through.
Sure, I could've bought one of those ugly fake owls or spikes to keep them away, but I love birds too much to go to war with them. Especially pigeons, who are hopelessly domesticated and lost.
I still can't look at a balcony without wondering how much the owners have to clean it, though.
No one cares
I always thought that renting out a high-rise downtown would give me some status. I thought people would think of me differently, once I had shown it off enough, of course. But, that never happened. No one cared, and, why would they?
I mean, I hadn't done anything impressive, all I had done is made a little bit of money — just enough to make a stupid decision.
The truth is I was living a lie. I was trying to convince myself that if I elevated myself to what I perceived to be the marker of someone with a higher social status, it would transform my life in some tangible way. It did not.
None of the women I was courting cared, none of my friends cared, the only person who had ever cared was me, and I only cared because I thought other people cared. It's exactly this type of vicious circle thinking that gets people into sticky situation. Nowadays, I thoroughly pick apart any big purchase I'm thinking of making to see if it will be at all worth it. Most of time, the answer is a resounding "nah."
Hopefully, this list will make you think a little harder before investing in the high-rise life like I did.
I mean, it's not all bad, but I do recommend researching the building you're interested in before signing on willy-nilly as I did. You'll save yourself a lot of grief.
It's also worth noting that I rented that building from 2018 to 2021. Before Toronto's rental market was on fire. And I don't mean that in a "let's roast marshmallows" kind of way. I mean, prices have blown up like a popcorn kernel in a microwave, soaring by over 40% since 2021.
The folks at Rentals.ca, bless their hearts, they've been keeping tabs on the whole shindig. And they dropped some bombshells in their National Rent Report a few months ago, dishing out the real dirt on Toronto's real estate scene.
Renting in the city now feels like trying to eat a budgeted meal at a Michelin Star restaurant. In fact, the average rent is at jaw-dropping $2,822 per month, which is way less than what I was paying back in the day.
This article hasbeenupdated since it was originally published in February, 2023.