Finding a place to live in Toronto without a professional career
October 24, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I am not a student or a working professional, but I need an affordable place to live in Toronto. How do I sell my story to potential landlords?

The place I am now living in has been sold, and is changing hands Nov 24th. I need somewhere new to go. I have been living downstairs at a relative's place while he renovated for resale. I only moved back to Toronto because I was aware of a decent place to live where I knew someone and could get a deal. Otherwise I thought of this city as too expensive for the type of work available to me. I have been looking on Craigslist, Kijiji, and ViewIt. In theory I would like a shared house, but I may be too old to roommate. A basement apartment might work. I'm fearful of the large buildings, especially at prices I can swing, because they may have issues of bugs and maintenance. I'm dragging around a car, so parking is an additional hassle. I've sent emails to a few places in the last week, but have received no replies.

Many places stipulate in the ad that their offering is for students or working professionals. I am neither. I haven't been working at all, and when I do work it is not in a professional capacity. I came here after I lost a factory job elsewhere in Ontario during the downturn two or three years ago. Since my prospects sucked and I had money squirreled away from years of working in and out of factories, I tried to rededicate myself to art/illustration. Honestly, I have been doubtful and apprehensive about that path, and I don't have much to show for a couple years of doodling in sketchbooks trying to find the right approach. If I had produced more, approached a couple people and found some freelance assignments, maybe I could call myself a kind of working professional, but I didn't. I've been working a fantasy, and I wish I could keep doing so. Occasionally I'd take a temp job in a warehouse, but it didn't seem to make sense to join the commute on the 401 for minimum wage we'll-call-you-when-we-need-you packing boxes in a factory.

So I'm having a hard time approaching landlords because I expect them to see me as a bum without purpose or direction, without an income. It would be worse trying to find a place if I smoked or had pets or children, but I'm free of those issues. Still, it would be silly to end up homeless when I do have money in the bank to pay rent for the next couple years even if I don't work an assembly line somewhere. My retirement is screwed, but I can pay people now. I'm clumsy and slow at life, and I isolate myself, but I'm also quiet and polite, and pay my rent on time. A trouble-free tenant, I think, except that I never seem to go anywhere. In the last week I've been questioning if I belong in Toronto if I'm not a working professional. But I don't know where else to go anyway. I've thought of moving up to Brampton, because industrial temp work might be more abundant up there, but I look at those areas as the worst of Toronto (expense, congestion and urban ugliness) without any of the good things (arts, culture and diverse living). And, there's no reason to believe that landlords up there would feel anymore secure about renting to me than landlords in the centre of the city.
posted by TimTypeZed to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"I am a freelance illustrator"
posted by Acheman at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2011

Bring a bank statement with you.
posted by Jairus at 7:49 AM on October 24, 2011

The rental market in Toronto is tight, so no response to your emails is about what you would expect. Instead, walk around the neighbourhood(s) you would like to live in with copies of your bank statement, letters of reference and credit report (if it is good) and knock on doors/call numbers you see advertised. I know people that share houses at all different ages so that is not too unusual.

Personally, I wouldn't recommend moving to Brampton, there is an arts scene but it is very small. Have you thought about Hamilton at all? It has a vibrant arts scene and is much cheaper to rent than Toronto. But really, nothing is tying you to Toronto, why not try somewhere completely different, like out East or West?
posted by saucysault at 7:56 AM on October 24, 2011

You should describe yourself unapologetically as a freelancer, then tell the prospective landlord that you understand that they might be hesitant to rent to you without seeing a pay stub for a traditional full-time job, but that you have the money to cover your rent for the foreseeable future and you'd be happy to pay the first 6 months of your lease up front if it would make them feel more comfortable.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Great advice so far. If you're looking outside of Toronto then Hamilton or K-W might suit you - rents are much cheaper compared to Toronto, they're cities so there's arts/culture/diversity but they're smaller, easier to get around, less overwhelming, and they're only an hour away if you're still shopping your illustration work around. I can't imagine, based on personal experience, that you would have such a hard time finding a rental in either area or that you'd have to jump through as many hoops.
posted by flex at 8:55 AM on October 24, 2011

I found a rental here (albeit with roommates) within a week, I'm not a student and I don't have a job either. First, I made a good impression on my roommate who was looking at candidates on behalf of the landlord. Then I explained my situation (looking for work, have money to pay rent), filled out the application and sent it to the landlord. When I met the landlord in person, I took with me my reference letters from my last employers and also my bank statement and that was it. So it is possible.
posted by marais at 9:02 AM on October 24, 2011

Instead of using the word "freelancer" use the words "self-employed" or "consultant".
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on October 24, 2011

Offer to pay more for your deposit.
posted by Shark Tail at 10:45 AM on October 24, 2011

You're self-employed (back your finances up with a bank statement or similar). Don't apologize for yourself, and be courageous. This is genuinely not a huge problem, and most of the landlord concerns can be addressed by you being confident, clear, and concise in your explanation of what you do.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:33 AM on October 24, 2011

Landlords don't give a crap about your "story" - they only care about your ability to pay rent and to not burn down their house or to grow pot in the bathroom (etc.) If you find an apartment you like, come with a photocopy of your bank statement or whatever else you'd use to prove an ability to pay. When they ask you what you do for a living, say "freelance illustrator". Because it's true.

As for roommates - you might not, in fact, be too old. (Although you don't say how old you are.) People looking for a roommate might mind if you're home all the time (that can get annoying), but yo don't need to admit that and you should use the situation as motivation to get your life up and running. (Also, lots of roommate situations are actually 'practically a basement apartment but without a kitchen' and may not really care as much about your sociability.)

Also: the vast majority of this city isn't 'working professionals', and those words in real estate postings are really just code for "responsible well-behaved non-idiot". So don't put too much stock in it.

Also: either go back to school or get a job. any job. you sound depressed and bored enough that that could be your main problem in getting people to want to live with you.
posted by Kololo at 1:54 PM on October 24, 2011

Thanks. It has been useful to me to see that most people advise to just say I'm self-employed. I think that I can now more confidently state that without feeling that I'm being deceptive. That's what I did in the email I sent out today anyway, and received a quick reply (saying to contact them again closer to the weekend). And, in response to the last point above, I'm thinking that once I get myself situated I should look again at finding something simple with a small paycheque to do, to vary life up and get myself out of the house more, approaching it as a supplement to the art/illustration pursuit.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:12 PM on October 24, 2011

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