Renting while Black, and while too tall to fit in many small apartments.
Craig Dominic is a DJ and event co-ordinator living in downtown Toronto. After living in the same apartment for several years, he spent about a month searching for a new place this year. He described the difficulties of searching for an apartment as a Black man in Toronto who’s self-employed and tall enough that he has trouble fitting in many spaces and knows his presence can be imposing.
I was very lucky, because a friend of mine actually saw my post on Facebook and said, “Hey, I have a condo that I’m not going to be using in a couple weeks.” I think that’s the only way it would have happened, to be honest.
I will say that renting while Black is almost a thing where you feel like you have to disclose that before you meet up with people. I was given a dirty look at one place when I showed up, she gave me a really dirty look, like, “What are you doing here?” and the whole time I was there I was very uncomfortable, and I left knowing I probably would never be approved to live there. It made me feel unwelcome. More so than the look, it was just that they didn’t want me there and they didn’t want to show me the place.
Another place, I think it was a catfish kind of thing, where they basically said come to the second floor to the open house. I got there maybe 20 minutes before the open house was supposed to end and all the lights were off, and the door was closed. Being 6’4” and Black means I don’t have the luxury of just opening up someone’s door and going up to the second floor of some random house I’ve never heard of. These are things I can’t do as easily as other people.
I was asked for my 2015 taxes as proof of income, which is more than the employment letter that normally people ask for. I was asked for—I can’t even remember all the things I’ve been asked for now. Ontario Real Estate Association, the stuff that they ask for is actually ridiculous. They ask you for your banking information, they ask you for the actual account numbers. This is all just to apply. Not to apply for the place after you’ve been chosen, this is all just to apply for them to—like, 100 people will give them all this information. They want your SIN number, all this kind of stuff. It was very difficult. Most of the places I went to, I was competing with couples, I was competing with rich people, rich yuppies, no offence to them, to the point that if I am self-employed, which currently I am, it makes it very—you’re an undesirable, basically.
I found it easier to notice possible racism in situations where it wasn’t just me looking at a place. It was other people there, the white people there who were looking at the place were given a lot more—there was a lot more intention for them to rent it. I walked into one place and it was an open house but it was just me and this other girl. It was a white girl. She didn’t live in the country yet, so she didn’t have a proof of employment, she didn’t have her SIN number, she didn’t have anything. But this guy was basically talking to her like she already had the place. You know, you look just like my colleague, blah blah blah, they were just getting along so well, and this was a person who had no credentials, who had nothing, didn’t even live in the country yet, and I was just like, “Okay, should I leave?” It’s not necessarily overt stuff that I experienced, it’s a lot of stuff like that that I experienced. I did feel uncomfortable in some places, I did feel like I had no chance to rent in other places, and I was, you know, given the run-around in other places.
And on top of that, I think a lot of times when I was asked for information that people should not be asking for, I did wonder sometimes if it was because they just assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford the place. Like, there’s no reason they should be asking for my 2015 taxes.
I went to maybe 15 places, and some were very keen, some were not keen. Some had a lot of hoops for me to jump through, some did not have a lot of hoops for me to jump through. So it’s really hard to say 100 per cent racism is why, but that’s the thing with Canada, you never really—the racism here is never to the point where you know this is exactly why. It’s usually a situation where you have to second-guess if that’s the reason, because no one is as overt here.
This is the first interview in a new series about the struggles of being a renter in the city. If you have a story to share, reach out to Tannara Yelland at firstname.lastname@example.org.