Toronto

The Apartment Guide: Berlin vs Copenhagen vs Toronto

As we're the kind of people who move pretty frequently--I've counted up 17 moves, 3 of which involved moving across the ocean, in the last 5 years--we tend to spend a lot of time searching for apartments. Every time, we say 'this time we're going to hold out until we get the right one.' So far it hasn't come along but we keep trying...

I guess after searching in so many cities I've become sort of an expert on the specific character of rentals and how they differ from place to place. I hereby hand to you my not so in-depth analysis of Berlin, Copenhagen, and Toronto and what you can expect to find there.

BERLIN

The stereotype:

CHEAPNESS!!

The reality:

Stiff competition from overly-prepared Germans & overwhelming numbers of Spaniards.

Typical housing stock: 

5-7 level courtyard apartments serviced by stairs only, vorderhaus & hinterhaus (vorderhaus faces the street, hinterhaus is set behind the vorderhaus and faces into the courtyard) , usually apartments have access to light from both sides so you'll never end up in a shoebox situation like you do in North American apartments.

When you go see a flat:

If you are viewing the apartment independently as opposed to an open house, the host will ask you if you want a drink. You feel awkward saying no because theoretically you want to stand out and make an impact with your awesome personality. And then you feel even more awkward saying yes when you inevitably have to sit there and make conversation for 10 minutes with someone who can't believe you have a job but don't speak German.  

Take note! 

I have never seen an oven that was actually used, even in apartments that have been inhabited by the same person for decades. When being shown the kitchen, quite often the host would add as a sort of side thought, "..and here's the offen. I guess you could use it to cook a pizza or birthday cake..." You know. Because what else would you think of using an oven for? No one actually cooks supper in Berlin.

Top tips for getting the apartment:

BE EMPLOYED! Many of your fellow apartment-hunters are unemployed, so you will have a serious edge if you already have work. That being said, there are plenty of people who will take a chance on you even if you don't have work - but these tend to be sublets.

Be ready to throw down 3-4 months of rent plus a German credit report (must have a bank account to get this) straight off. Bring your pre-filled out application with you and don't bother looking at the apartment, just introduce yourself with a very firm handshake and hand off your documents. Bribery with liquorice, cigarettes, or boiled potatoes recommended.

Make sure to...

a. Avoid levels 1-2 if you're in the hinterhaus. You won't see sunlight in spite of your huge windows. 

b. Avoid coal-heating. If you are one of those people who thought coal-heating went out with the industrial revolution, think again. It is alive and well in Berlin.  Try to envision the pleasure of: storing a few tonnes of coal in your cellar, running down 5 flights of stairs to bring up a load of dusty coal, running 5 flights up, figuring out the right trick to lighting the stove... and then think of whether that seems like it is worth the cost saving measures at 5am on a cold winter morning when you've forgotten to keep the stove going.

Yeah... I thought not.

As a bonus, I now present to you:

BERLIN APARTMENTS ARE SPACIOUS AND HAVE A LOT OF LIGHT! GOOD LUCK GETTING ONE, THOUGH! 

COPENHAGEN

The stereotype: 

Expensive yet fashionable

The reality:

Even more expensive than you thought, yet fashionable

Typical housing stock: 

5-6 story courtyard apartments similar to Berlin, painted completely white from top to bottom. Not so big on balconies, possibly because of the bad weather. Tiny bathrooms due to the old tradition of communal kitchen/bathroom facilities in the cellar.

Be prepared to...

Compete with 60-80 other people for all living situations: either your own apartment or a single room in a shared apartment. If the latter, keep in mind that Danes like sweet, playful roommates with bubbly laughter, the right amount of hygge-ness and preferably blonde hair. You should also know just the right amount of social interaction. If it's a shared apartment with a couple, basically just stay in your room and FOR THE LOVE OF JEBUS don't touch their yoghurt or rugbrød.

Take note!

Bathrooms are going to disappoint you to the extent that you will curse the Danish Gods every morning when you have to wash your face over a sink that is only slightly larger than a pet-bowl and shower with one leg up on the toilet for balance. You will be able to touch all four sides of the bathroom at once without any effort, even if you are a very small person. Danish bathrooms are the right size if you are a midget or 3 years old, otherwise they are custom made for daily frustration.

Top tip for getting the apartment

BE DANISH! If you aren't Danish, pretend to be Danish. Prepare yourself for a very very hygge cup of tea with all the people who live in the flat. Schedule 20 minutes and don't ask them any questions about themselves, this is for them to judge whether you are fit for their lives and friendship (i.e., are you Danish enough?)

Answer their questions with grace but after that make lots of references to how much you love Denmark, Danes, the Danish healthcare system, Danish education; finally mention how your auntie in Minnesota is Danish and introduced you to rugbrød at an early age.  It doesn't matter if you don't have a Danish aunt, it's just important to establish that you are the right kind of person, i.e., Danish, albeit a lesser mongrel sort. 

If you see one of these lying around be sure to squeal and gush about how cute it is and how good they must have looked upon graduation. If that doesn't get you in, nothing will.

Make sure to...

a. Register any rental complaints with the tenancy board, LLO.dk.  We spend 6 months in a 40m2 flat and paid 6500dkk per month - we always had the feeling we were getting ripped off and this was confirmed after a visit to the LLO. You have to pay for the services, but it is very worth it - we ended up getting half our rent returned to us after filing a complaint. They sent in inspectors to the apartment, took care of the correspondence between us and our previous landlord, and finally made sure we got our money back. Half of 6500dkk over six months is around $3500. Not chump change. 

b. Try for the upper levels of apartment buildings. You will be thankful when you get a stray sunbeam of light in the winter where the lower levels suffer in hygge darkness. 

As a bonus, I now present to you:

DANISH BATHROOMS FROM THE SEVENTH CIRCLE OF HELL

LAST AND LEAST, TORONTO

The stereotype:

West is Best

The reality:

West is kinda better but East is pretty nice too.

Typical housing stock:

Attached, semi-detached & detached single family homes built between the late 1800's & early-mid 1900's. A lot of houses have been split into 2, 3, or 4 separate apartments, one on each level including the basement. This means there's a huge variety in quality, from hastily chopped up houses to totally renovated beauties. 

Be prepared to... 

a. Compete. You'll be dealing CPH- and Berlin-style with 60 other applicants, but with only 10% of the housing options. Also, your apartment will not be as spacious & affordable as in Berlin or as fashionable as CPH, though there's a 50% chance you'll have a bathtub. So basically be prepared for a lot of crap. 

b. Pay a premium for location, independent of the quality of the apartment. 

When you go see a flat: 

Scope out the landlord along with the flat. Toronto is notorious for bad landlords so you want to get a very fast initial impression of what you could be up against. Niceness is no substitute for ability. And some people who seem nice and laid back on the outside are actually ruthlessly cruel on the inside. Also, the last thing you want is a buddy for a landlord. Nothing worse than getting into a rental dispute with someone you are friends with.

Top tip for getting the apartment:

Being an employed professional couple seems to make you desirable, since I'm guessing a lot of other applicants are either students or employed in the restaurant business. Adding the words 'designer', 'quiet & tidy', 'non-smoking' and 'pet-free' are probably good ideas too. Stating that you can provide previous references also seems reasonable.

Make sure to...

a. Avoid basements. No matter how BRIGHT, SPACIOUS & NEWLY RENOVATED they might be, they are still basements and have the single damaging characteristic that if Toronto gets a decent amount of rain, you're gonna be hooped. The other downside is that because of the age of the Toronto housing stock, most basements were never intended to be used as dwellings and have very low ceiling heights and tiny windows that let in minimal light. Cheaper? Yes. Worth your mental health and potential damage to possessions? You decide.

b. Bring all your documents with you to the viewing: references, letter of employment, credit report & pre-filled out application if applicable. I personally am not the kind of person who enjoys making split second decisions about where to live, but sometimes it's necessary. So be prepared.

FOR THE LOVE OF SWEET BABY JEEBUS, DON'T LIVE IN A BASEMENT OR A CONDO!