It’s slim pickings for renters in the Greater Toronto Area right now. In a distinct pre-pandemic fashion, we’re back to teeny tiny apartments, disproportionate rents, and listings that read like a very, very bad joke.

At the same time, rental demand throughout Ontario and particularly in the GTA is stronger than it has been since the pandemic hit, and rental rates are rising on par with the staggering demand. 

According to a new National Rent Report by and Bullpen Research & Consulting, Ontario has the second-highest rental rates in the country. The average monthly rent for an apartment in the province was $2,332 in July, up 15.2% since last year and 3.1% since June. 

Meanwhile, in the National Rent Rankings of 35 Canadian cities, Toronto had the fourth most expensive rental rates. A one-bedroom in the city was $2,257 in July -- 21.6% more than the year before and 4% more than in June. A two-bedroom was $3,259, up 25% since last year and 7.8% since June.

And it's not just the Toronto core. Several other cities in the GTA ranked high for rental rates as well. Etobicoke, North York, and Mississauga were all in the top 10 of the National Rent Rankings. 

With prices that would make anyone look twice, it may not be the best time to look for a rental in the GTA, but not everybody has the luxury to wait around for a more approachable market.

Stiff Competition for Limited Listings

Karima Jaffer has been on the hunt for a rental apartment in the Toronto area since February. She's willing to live with a roommate, she's open to all housing types, and although she initially set out to live somewhere between the Annex and Dundas West, she's willing to consider most areas.

Her criteria is inarguably reasonable. Her criteria has also changed as she's experienced the rental market in real-time.

"I started getting a little bit less picky," she says. "Maybe I just want a subway station close to me or even just a streetcar that comes frequently."

Jaffer estimates that since starting her search she's inquired about some 300 listings. Of those, she's only been able to see about 20 units in person. 

"[When] I go see a listing, I plan it based on my day," she says. "I was working in Scarborough for a contract job and this listing I found was in downtown. So, I left Scarborough, I'm on my way to this listing, and all of a sudden, I get a text saying, 'we already rented it out.'"

This is not an isolated case. She's also had rental providers forget about her showings, ghost her in the midst of arranging a showing, and give her the wrong directions.

From Jaffer's standpoint, there is a clear and disheartening lack of accountability and power imbalance at play in today's rental market. And while the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) acknowledges the challenging reality for renters, they attribute such conditions to the market balancing out. 

"The way we see it, there was a supply problem in the rental market prior to the pandemic. This is really just returning to where we were before," says Asquith Allen, Director, Policy and Regulatory Affairs for the FRPO. "There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of rightsizing the supply that's needed in Ontario for the number of renters that exist today, and obviously, the number of renters that will exist with international students returning to in-person learning."

Outlandish Prices for Outlandish Accommodations 

Jaffer's apartment search has been on and off. In March, she secured a rental apartment with Harrington Housing. She signed her lease only to realize that she would be living with three roommates. She says she wasn't informed of this beforehand, and that the unit did not look to her as it did when advertised.

"What I've noticed actually from all of these places is that the pictures and the advertisements are often false, in terms of what is being offered or not," she says.  

But false advertising is just the tip of the iceberg. She's viewed basement apartments (ants included) for around $600 per month, a closet outfitted with a bed for around $1,000 per month, and even couches for rent for around $500 to $700 per month. 

Of course, location plays a big part in prices. A report released by in June found that rents were highest in the Bay Street Corridor and the downtown core. Meanwhile, rents were lowest in South Parkdale and Cabbagetown-South St. Jamestown. 

Low-Income Earners Feeling the Brunt

In addition to apartment hunting, Jaffer is also in the midst of job hunting. The fact that she doesn't have a steady paycheque has affected her ability to compete with other renters. At the same time, without knowing if she will have a roof over her head next week or next month, it's been difficult for her to focus on her job hunt and find that stability in other parts of her life. 

Moreover, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) cautions that merely being employed may not be enough. 

"While the real estate industry and rental markets have grown financially, people’s wages and incomes have not kept pace. There is a gigantic gap between what housing costs and people’s incomes, and although CMHC says housing costs need to be only 30% of your income after tax to be considered affordable, millions of people pay far more than that," says Douglas Kwan, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at ACTO. "This makes it especially difficult for most low-income people to find housing that is not only affordable, but also big enough, in their community, and with reasonable amenities that they can securely rent for the long-term."

Kwan adds that for those reliant on the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works assistance, it's "next to impossible" to find suitable rental accommodations in the GTA right now. 

For Jaffer, the rental market has been unforgiving, but she's just recently signed a lease for a shared home in The Beach neighbourhood. She will be moving in September.

With that said, her lease is month to month, so there's no sure promise of stability. In any case, her experience this year with the GTA's rental market has left her jaded and wary.

"As a woman who is also trying to find myself and be physically and psychologically safe, I need a space where I can feel safe to live and to continue living," she says. "It feels like the housing market has failed me and is constantly letting me down. I'm exhausted and tired."