Toronto maintains a reputation for being cold beyond its winter season. In a metropolis where locals and students alike opt for keeping a distance from passing strangers over acknowledging them, it’s odd how quickly the tables can turn when the lease is up or the international roommate goes back across the border. We are surprisingly open to the idea of extending, arguably, the most personal space we’ve got to offer (without taking any clothes off) to a complete stranger, yet a sense of community is not one of the city’s more distinct qualities.
It’s justifiably so, considering how difficult it is to come by reasonable rent. Tuition is no petty expense, and as emerging adults who are surrounded by an atmosphere of success, we haven’t got the sensibility to realize that our time for Prada and Balenciaga will come with a career after we graduate — not a higher credit limit.
God forbid we swallow our pride and move back home. Instead, we seek whatever we can find within a supply painstakingly outweighed by demand. But the issue at hand is beyond the already-claimed Kijiji listings: roommate culture in Toronto requires an idealistic compromise on behalf of both the stranger posting the ad, and the stranger moving in.
Pauline Mukosiej is a second-year student at the University of Toronto. In her first year, she chose to live on residence where she completed a preliminary survey before being matched with an “ideal” roommate. When asked about how the pairing fared throughout the year, Pauline immediately noted that, “you don’t think about the privacy issues signing up for something like that”. Pauline complained that whenever she “wanted to get changed, imagine having to do that under the covers in daily life [because the roommate never left the space].” Despite stating on her survey that she was relatively neat and orderly, she was matched to someone who “may have organized their own notebooks, but had no problem leaving their hair all over the opposite side of the room — conveniently the side that was not their own.” Unsurprisingly, Pauline’s living arrangements ended on a sour, passive-aggressive note.
Less demand leaves more supply for the students in university towns like Kingston and Windsor. With stress eased, the search for the perfect roommate feels a little less like a time-sensitive stroll over thin ice and more like an effort towards a genuine connection. Dion Vassos, a graduate student at the University of Windsor, is a U of T alumni who was “shocked by the change in social dynamics” after moving out of Toronto. Given Toronto’s prodigious nature, he expressed that there is “no sense of social belonging” and “the people you live with are just that: people you live with.”
Searching for a roommate begins as a symbiotic relationship—the original tenant needs the money and the new tenant needs a roof over his or her head. A quick interview happens, facts check out, and the move-in day comes sooner than later. Unfortunately, the desperation for a place to stay tends to shroud one’s ability to embrace the reality of their character, and potential roommates undersell their negative habits and unhealthiest details of their lifestyle in the context of a shared space.
It’s an issue nearly exclusive to metropolitan cities like Toronto where housing is less a commodity and more a necessity, simply out of how unavailable it is. Marcel Kraus de Camargo, an undergraduate student at Queen’s University, says that “student housing in Kingston is best compared to a village.” Where the Torontonian is isolated purely as a result of the city’s dense population, in Kingston, “everyone knows everything about everyone else, so you know exactly what you’re involving yourself with if you’re choosing to live with them.” Having already seen many prospects around town, it being so small, Marcel mentioned that “you will have seen them at their best and their worst, so there are little to no surprises”, unlike in Toronto where we run the risk of uncovering undesirable traits only after a new roommate has already moved in.
Occasionally forgetting that our roommate’s 8AM wake up call may not pair well with a Thursday night tribute to tequila featuring 50 of our closest friends is a forgivable offense; youth is fleeting, and there is far too much happening in the big city not to remain idle. That said, it’s as much your right to have fun as it is your obligation to inform the stranger-soon-to-be-roommate-for-a-year of your less endearing qualities. Whether that will disqualify you as a tenant or not, patience in these circumstances is more rewarding than the negative experience that is sure to come with blindy signing a lease.