Searching for a Dream Apartment But Finding Only Nightmares

by Zoe Daniels

Where have you lived, Zoe Daniels?

Lower Plateau, Montreal, $430/mo. + hydro/internet
My first apartment was a 5 1/2 in Montreal (the 1/2 is the bathroom) one street over from the biggest bar street in the city. It was pretty much a hovel. The view from the concrete slab our slumlord called “the porch” was dumpsters and short order cooks smoking cigarettes. On Sunday mornings our front steps were all puke, piss and poutine containers. There was a five-foot tall pile of rusting bikes in the back courtyard we shared with our neighbors. We thought it was awesome. So cool, so accessible.

The nearest grocery store was 24-hour, which seems like a good idea, but 24-hour grocery stores always have 24-hour grocery store prices so things like $8 blocks of cheese happened. Once I was on my way to have dinner with pals and stopped to grab another bottle of wine (I had one in my purse) and the “security guard” who walked around menacing people with his popped out eyes and puffed out chest wouldn’t let me pay.

He insisted I had stolen the bottle that I had walked in with, because the 24-hour grocery sold that particular brand of wine (I didn’t know this). After the most frustrating conversation I have ever had in my life, I left my bottle of wine there (I know, I know, this was an unbelievably stupid choice), went home (around the corner) and got the receipt for my bottle and returned, brandishing the 4-day old Metro receipt like a smoking gun. The “security guard”, seeing my triumphal face, said “This is a different price. It is not a receipt for this wine.” He wouldn’t give me my wine back. He “couldn’t” review the security tape because the office was locked. I left furious and crying. I cried all night and hit on a famous skateboarder at his bachelor party. The next morning I went, livid and hungover, to talk to the grocery store manager and he just looked at me like the absolute moron I was and said, “Which bottle was it? Yeah, whatever, just take it.”

Plateau, Montreal, $500/mo. +hydro/internet
You spend the entire time you live in Montreal hearing about the dream apartment. It’s a $250/month brick walled loft with huge windows, a newly renovated kitchen and a dishwashing butler and someone’s friend always has it. We thought this was it. Great location, balcony, equal-sized rooms, big kitchen, storage space. During our first (also last) spring, black mold starting creeping up the walls. We took it up with the landlord. He said the roof was maybe leaking and this had never happened. Some of his cousins “fixed the roof”. The mold came back. Our landlord sent a Portuguese man in a Starter jacket with the leering eyes of a professional date rapist who spoke no English, no French, and very little Portuguese upstairs with a bucket and some dish soap. No gloves, no scrubbies, no paper towels. We learned the mould was poisonous and continued to bother our landlord about it. He sent the sub-verbal lecher back three times. Once with scrubbies, once with paper towels, and once with paint when we said we were moving out.

Plateau, Montreal, $375/mo. +hydro/internet
The actual dream apartment. My two best pals and myself were in a stupidly beautiful third-floor apartment with 1920’s molding and three equal sized rooms. I had a giant sea foam green tiled fireplace and six-foot windows in my room, my roommates both had huge windows. One had a balcony and the other had two closets. We had permanent bike parking on the railings outside, the living room had a chandelier and a picture rail, and we had laundry in the basement. No apartment I have or will ever live in will be more beautiful. It came out that what we thought was a family building was in fact a famille building because four separate times we got complaints from other tenants that someone was “speaking English loudly in the hallway.” Our landlord was mostly cool but I realized why when she was gluing rubber pads onto the steps (winter!) and asked me if I remembered the feeling of putting gasoline in a paper bag and huffing it. You know, from childhood. I did not.

Parkdale, Toronto, $500/mo. all included
Big changes, so fun. I moved to Toronto to pursue my comedy dreams, and also to shack up with my dreamboat boyfriend. We wanted a cheap place because neither of us had work set up, and we found it in a SUNNY TOP FLOOR VICTORIAN!!! Parkdale is a gentrifying neighborhood in Toronto, which we knew, but I was not prepared for what gentrifying actually means. I came home to a woman sleeping on the stairs, who, when she saw me, started up and said “I’M JUST WAITING FOR SOMEONE!” (note: she was not, in fact, waiting for anyone.)

Our neighbors were a terrifying white lady with a huge hive of dreds crowning her gaunt face and a balding dude who told us he liked our energy, and a jam band. Six months into living there, our weirdo neighbor started getting weirder: blasting Astral Weeks on repeat for entire days; playing the bongos; texting us to tell us to shut up when we were not home; drumming on the wall we shared and speaking to us through it; leaving a small half-empty bottle of lube and a tin heart pendant in front of our door; silently giving us a wrench set; causing water damage and screaming, “I AM THE GOD KARMA!”

Our landlady, via the police, made clear to us that he had schizophrenia — it did more or less explain why he wrote I LOVE YOU and then a star of David on the hallway by our door, and potentially why he danced around the hallway singing “They are never coming back! I made them leave!” when DB and I were staying at friends’ places looking for new apartments. No one would tell us when he was coming back, so we packed up our apartment over three furtive afternoons.

Little Portugal, Toronto, $600/mo. +utilities
Partially because Dreamboat Boyfriend was super employed, we snagged this enormous two-bedroom with a deck. During the viewing, the 40 sullen Portuguese people crammed into the apartment’s living space watched us eyeball their life-size statue of the Virgin Mary and second fridge. All the walls and some of the ceilings were flesh-colored with a sateen finish. Obviously, something sketchy had been happening, but we were desperate, so we signed the papers. We got a bunch of paint and put it on the landlord’s tab at the hardware store on Ossington.

The first morning we woke up there, DB and I were snuggled on the couch in our jammies relishing the silence, the calm, the amazing potential of our new place when our upstairs neighbor began yelling at his girlfriend. I could make out one of every three words, and it was always FUCK. After some crashes, we called the police, who were monumentally unhelpful. They told our neighbors that we had called and reported domestic abuse and left immediately. Getting cut-eye from your super jacked neighbor who is clearly verbally if not physically abusive is a real anxiety-builder. A couple times we were woken up in the middle of the night by enormous crashes from upstairs. I felt sick a lot of the time. DB and I were often super stressed and had a lot of serious talks. Four months in, we realized there were cockroaches — a lot of cockroaches. He found their nest under the porch and cleared it away before I saw it. He shuddered when he told me about it. After the unstable neighbor and the fighting neighbors and all the vermin, DB and I decided to go on a super budget Grand Tour. We AirBnB’d the shit out of our front room to subsidize the trip, then took a flight to Reykjavik. In a suburb of Munich, DB surprised me by initiating a break-up in a loft bed while the apartment’s owner was 16 feet away, watching German-dubbed Family Guy. We spent the last 10 days of the trip in various AirBnB apartments in a tearstained blur.

Annex-adjacent warehouse wasteland, Toronto, $550/mo. all included

A friend from university had an empty room. The apartment, like many in Toronto, is half of the upstairs of a house, so it’s very tall and very small. There are plants everywhere and no one eats my food from the fridge. The landlady insists that we don’t wear shoes on the newly-renovated floors but they’re good about fixing the central heat. I’ve spent a lot of time in this apartment watching Netflix on my computer in my bed. My window gets Western light, so in the evenings when I’m not working I sit on my bed and bathe in it with the cat we’re fostering for a bit. A couple weeks ago I realized that I can hear our next-door neighbor snoring. I repeat: next door — like, a whole separate house away; brick walls and everything. I often need a white noise machine, earplugs, and a blanket over my head to get to sleep. I think it’s an old man with sleep apnea so I’m trying to be understanding, because he does not yet seem mentally ill or abusive, but 911’s on my speed dial just in case.

Zoe Daniels is a writer, cartoonist and comedian living in Toronto. She’s probably moving soon.