“I keep thinking I’ll wake up and it will all be a dream,” my seven-year-old daughter said, her voice drifting from the backseat, while I drove her to school on a cool fall morning.
The night before, I had shared with her, my oldest child, that we were being evicted from our Guelph, Ont. townhouse after nearly four years. The rent is low, we live in a sought-after community, and in an area that we love and feel connected to. Our neighbours all know us, and our three young daughters play outside every day after school with their friends, often setting up picnics on the front lawn.
It is our worst nightmare. Our landlord is evicting us because he said he wants to move into our home, which I guess isn’t our home at all. Earlier in the year, we told the landlord that we wanted to stay there long-term — I even wrote about trying to put down roots in a home that isn’t ours for The Globe and Mail. And here we were, in the situation I dreaded, facing significantly higher rent, while also losing our community, school and beloved neighbours.
Eviction is never pleasant. But it’s especially challenging when rental prices have skyrocketed in recent years, making it nearly impossible to rent a suitable home for a family of five. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published an eye-opening report earlier this year that found only three percent of Canadian neighbourhoods have two-bedroom units that are affordable for full-time employees that make minimum wage. While my husband and I both work, our situation is challenging because there are very few three-bedroom homes for rent, and most of the ones in our city go for more than $2,000 per month, plus utilities.
We were given 60 days to move out of our rental home — a laughably short amount of time to find a house, especially with a move-in date so close to Christmas, when so few homes are available. (I can’t tell you how many friends have told us they know someone who just rented out the perfect home). I’m a freelance writer, and I’ve lost money because I had to take time off to look for houses and get all our paperwork in order.
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Just days after we found out we were being evicted, we visited one of the only rental properties available within our time frame. The house was over 100 years old, and in need of major repairs and renovations. I wondered if we could make a home here, even with the ancient carpet and the peeling walls. Then I walked into the kitchen, and realized that there was no fridge — the kitchen was so small that the fridge was in another room. The house was renting for $2,000 a month, and the landlord declined to negotiate, saying that she felt the price was a steal. To rent this space, we’d be paying $450 more each month than before, along with likely higher utilities.
What is there to do in a situation like ours? We are a family of five, and moving into someone’s basement while we find a suitable home isn’t an option. Our parents live an hour away, we need to get our kids to school, and my husband still has to go to work. One option was to request an extension of our 60 days at a hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Board, which would be stressful. Since rentals are so expensive right now, another option was to purchase a home on our very limited budget, in a real estate market that does not favour new homebuyers.
After a long week of sleepless nights, panic attacks and anxiety, we found a home we could afford. We put in an offer on the house, which is across the city, in a new school zone, and in a neighbourhood we don’t know much about. Our offer was accepted, and we’re now proud and nervous homeowners. We are lucky that things worked out the way that they did, and thrilled that we managed to pull this off in such a short period of time (seven days, to be exact). But we also need space to grieve the loss of our community and our previous home.
I think the Canadian government is doing little to address the rising cost of rentals and the low supply and high demand. While I don’t have the perfect solution, expecting tenants to vacate their homes in 60 days is unthinkable, and adjusting the timing to 90 days would put less pressure on people to find something so quickly. The government also needs to address rising rent prices, and enact policies to protect renters from landlords gouging them just because they can. I suspect that our townhome will be available for rent a year from now, for a significantly higher monthly rate — and as long as my landlord lives in the house for a year, he’s perfectly within his rights to do so. That is not okay.
We can breathe a sigh of relief now that we own a home. We have a permanent place to call ours, and one that costs less to own than we would have paid to live in the crumbling century home we viewed. Now, we’ll never have a landlord tell us it’s time to leave in 60 days, and our kids’ hearts are soothed by the stability of home ownership. Still, the Canadian government needs to find a way to protect families from displacement, because what happened to us is happening all over the country, and many stories don’t end like ours.
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