Tiny bedrooms, common in the 3rd world, exist here.

In North America, a tenement building refers to an old, run down slummy apartment building that housed the poor in overcrowded conditions. They are also called slums and the building owners are called slumlords.

In the main, most tenement buildings are gone but tenement housing (called bedsits in Great Britain) never did completely disappear and now they have quietly moved into some of our condominium corporations.

If a condo townhouse corporation has 44 units, and even if the corporation's declaration says that all units are single-family residences, this part of the declaration is rarely enforced so the townhouse complex may actually have 60 or more unrelated families living in those townhouses.

On top of that, a spare bedroom in some of the units may be rented to boarders or roomers. Townhouses are so expensive that this is to be expected, especially if the builder put in roughed-in plumbing in the basements. How else can a lower income family afford to buy?

So the townhouse units may be overcrowded but that is nothing compared to the resulting parking problems. Instead of requiring parking for the owners' expected 44 vehicles and say ten visitor parking spots, the condo will need to supply at least 20 more parking spots. There goes the official "visitor parking" out the window plus any part of the common elements that is paved but not needed as a roadway.

Condo apartment units
"Due to the building's bad reputation, the quality of the residents is falling. There are now numerous units that have turned into rooming houses with 5-8 people in them."
—Reviewer on a Mississauga condo tower, Condo Advisory, 29 May 2013

So overcrowded units in townhouses is not only possible but is incorporated into the design but it shouldn't be such a problem in apartment towers, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Overcrowding in apartment towers, when it happens, is actually a much bigger problem than in townhouses. In townhouses, the individual units pays its own utilities (aside from water and garbage removal) and they share few common elements with the other units but this is not so in apartment buildings where some or all the utilities and garbage removal are a shared cost and paid through the common element fees.

Also, the hallway carpets, elevators and lobbies suffer from premature wear and tear so the common element fees go up or the building starts looking shabby. Excessive cooking odors in the hallways and balconies being used for storage, or as an additional bedroom, infuriates the other owners.

Then there is the constant flow of people moving in and out of the units, increased vandalism, graffiti, litter, young people hanging around in the hallways and staircases, and a large rise in false fire alarms.

This is when the resident-owners that can afford to, start moving out. Either they sell their units or they rent them out. Property values drop and the ethical real estate agents steer their clients to other buildings.

Single room occupancy
Single room occupancy (SRO), or rooming house, is where a common kitchen, bathroom and washroom are shared by several unrelated households, each of which lives in a single room opening up onto a common hallway. The bedrooms have locks on the doors.

Construction workers
One man that I work with told me that two other construction workers and he share a rented one-bedroom condo in Liberty Village. A nearby bachelor unit houses six construction workers. They have three sets of bunk beds in the single room.

How bad can it get?
One reader send me an e-mail telling me about the numerous overcrowded stacked townhouse units in his condo corporation.

"There are thousands of issues. Mostly when they build walls to make one unit into two units. Some owners create more bedrooms by converting the living room into one or two bedrooms.

One guy was rented the balcony that was enclosed and the renter had to walk through the main bedroom that was rented to two Japanese girls.

It was ridiculous for him walking through their room to get to his and his ‘bedroom’ had no open windows, no heat and flimsy curtains that did not block the light at all.  I told him to move out and call the city."

I am not making this up. I have seen real estate listings where the listing agent states that the living room has been converted to a third-bedroom (a selling feature) but that a buyer could easily convert it back into a living room.


If the condo is on a subway line or is close to a college or university, several students will share an apartment. This is so common that, when nearby condo apartment buildings and townhouses were built nearby, some universities had to close student residences.

Suitcase people

There are several international and domestic agencies that match landlords with students who are looking for cheap housing.

“Suitcase people” is a term used at a large Toronto luxury condo tower that sits next to a TTC subway station. A few absentee owners rent their units to international students who arrive in groups of two to six and expect to live in their rented condo unit for a few months.

After a few bad experiences, the condo's security watches out for them and everyone who shows up in the lobby carrying a suitcase is stopped and questioned.

Since the condo declaration states that the residential units can be used solely for single family use, the "suitcase people" are refused entry.

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