Students on renting and subletting, lower apartment prices during COVID-19

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By Samreen Maqsood

COVID-19 has changed the landscape of the housing market. For some students, this means going back to live with their families to feel less isolated, while for others it means choosing to live near campus for a better work environment.

Jezreel Viquiera, a second-year urban planning student, is currently renting a place about two minutes away from campus with three other girls.

“I didn’t want to stay at home with my family and parents, especially while doing school. I tend to focus more and manage my mental health better when I’m on my own away from my home,” she said.

According to an article by clinical psychologist Julie Erickson, living alone gives you more time to self-reflect and come up with your own solutions to problems. For many students, this alone time allows them to refine their interests.

For Viquiera, spending lockdown with her roommates has strengthened their relationships with each other, even organizing girls’ night to keep things interesting and to “prevent us from getting too bored or feeling down.” They do activities like paint and wine nights, dressing up in ’70s style and listening to ’70s music, along with many others.

Viquiera said her and her roommates took precautions before moving in, such as moving in on separate days and getting tested beforehand. Viquiera said the building staff also made the process safe. They helped move in her belongings while still maintaining distance and wearing personal protective equipment.

Marlon Kubes, a sales representative for Forest Hill Real Estate Yorkville, said the pandemic has made it more challenging to find a condo to rent and view them in person because some buildings are not allowing realtors to hold showings.

“I would recommend utilizing virtual tours when you can and only doing in-person viewings for the units you really want to see,” he said. “Since the start of the pandemic, 3D virtual tours have become much more commonplace and they’re so impressive that it’s almost like you’re really there.”

He added that it takes longer to book elevators due to the fact that so many people are moving in and out of buildings, and there is a limit on how many people can be in an elevator at a given time.

For other students, particularly those who don’t have roommates, staying in the city away from family proves more stressful. Emily Shinder, a second-year psychology student who rented a one-bedroom apartment near campus on the corner of Gerrard and Bay streets this summer, decided to go back home during the most recent lockdown to avoid “complete isolation.”

Due to the winter semester being online, she had to move back to her parents’ house in Ottawa. She hopes to move back to Toronto in the summer when it is safe to do so, as she signed a one-year lease.

Now, Shinder does occasionally return to her apartment with her dog when she needs a break from her family, but, for the most part, the apartment sits empty.

“I’m paying too much to have it sit completely empty, but it hasn’t been my primary residence for the past few months,” she said.

“I didn’t know how hard it would be to sublet my place with the pandemic”

Fourth-year photography student Samantha Jackson did her best to avoid having an apartment sitting empty. She rented out her apartment from May 1 to Aug. 31, 2020, as she signed a new lease with her partner’s apartment a week before the pandemic started and they were planning to move in together. But when looking for a subletter between March and May, Jackson said it was hard to find someone as there were so many listings being offered.

“I didn’t know how hard it would be to sublet my place with the pandemic,” she said. “One of my friends had sublet her place the prior summer and had no difficulties finding someone.”

Jackson said she was a bit of a “control freak” and wasn’t super keen on subletting. Initially, she wanted to transfer her lease so she wouldn’t be liable for the subletter’s actions, but the process proved too lengthy with her building management.

Not having many other options, she said she felt “desperate at that time” and went with whoever could sign the sublet agreement and pay first and last month’s rent. She ended up subletting it to an individual who contacted her through Facebook.

Jackson is currently in Toronto living away from home with her partner. Originally from Vancouver, she said the three hour time difference would make school and work difficult to manage. Like other students, she said it’s much easier for her to have a quiet workspace living on her own than it would be at home.

While her living situation did eventually work out, Jackson said she probably won’t be subletting again in the future unless she knows the person. The only way she got someone to rent her place was by offering a discounted rent—$300 less than what she was paying.

“It’s a good time for students who are interested in renting because prices are lower than they were previously”

Kubes said he estimates rent has gone down 20 per cent across the entire city during the pandemic, citing data from a recent study by PadMapper. According to Kubes, apartments around Ryerson that usually started at $2200 last year are now renting for as low as $1800.

Kubes said this is mostly due to an increase in supply and decrease in demand. Given that many people work from home, many have chosen to move outside the downtown core. Alternatively, people who have lost jobs may need to find alternative living arrangements outside the city. In this sense, demand to move into the city has gone down significantly.

Some landlords are offering incentives, such as one free month of rent and internet being included in the rental price. Kubes said this was to make their property stand out among all the other listings.

According to listings on Rentals.ca, the average rent for all types of property across Canada have dropped by 7 per cent, with tenants saying they haven’t seen falling rent prices in years.

Kubes said it’s a good time for students who are interested in renting to start renting because prices are lower than they were previously, adding that they should exercise caution and follow COVID-19 protocols. Landlords are also more willing to negotiate their prices because there’s so much more inventory on the market,” he added.

While Toronto’s prices are still high, they’ve become significantly more affordable than they were pre-pandemic, especially if you can find a roommate.

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