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