Roaches Under the Refrigerator

Adventures In Finding A Decent Place To Live

Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

Anyone here had to find a new apartment, and the process didn’t go quite how you imagined? Yeah, me too. Finding a new place to live sucks. I don’t know how else to put it. Last month, I found myself in a tough spot. A long-term relationship amicably ended, and I suddenly was faced with the daunting task of finding a new place to live.

I was devastated, but it was the right thing to do at this point. In the words of Forrest Gump. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

As I went through the moving on and moving out process, I got overwhelmed with feelings, emotions, and thoughts. If I overthought what was happening, what I had to do, what was going to happen, and what could go wrong, all simultaneously. I would’ve ended up rocking in the fetal position, sucking my thumb.

So, to get through this challenging time, I focused only on what was right in front of me. And number one on the list was finding a new place to live.

I am a recovering addict, so I have a sponsor and a support group to chat about what is going on in my life and hopefully get some guidance. So, I told my sponsor about all the questions and uncertainty in my head. He told me not to worry, everything will be OK, and your higher power has a plan.

OK, sure.

The date was already December 5, and I think because I’d missed the prime rental-posting time of whenever-the-hell-the-best-time-is-to-find-a-place was, most of the suitable apartments had already been snapped up. Or maybe it was Covid. Or maybe because people don’t want to move in winter and at Christmas. Who knows? But what I did know was that there were not a lot of rental options from which to choose.

Let the nightmare begin.

First of all, before we even begin talking about physical apartments and the adventures there, let’s start with the experiences of searching for places on the internet. I know this might come as a shock to you, but there are a lot of scams on the internet.

I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

Apartment hunting scams are everywhere. People are always looking to take your money on the internet, and finding an apartment is no different. I suppose we renters are easy targets because we’re desperate to find the security of a home and will do or pay almost anything to find it. Anyways, at first, seeing all these assholes trying to scam me was disheartening, and it was adding to my fear of never finding a decent place to live, not to mention pissing me off. There’s little else more frustrating than finding the “perfect” home and then realizing it was too good to be true.

Here’s a tip that will save you a lot of time and energy when searching online for an apartment: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

Here’s another nugget of wisdom I’ll pass along: Anyone who says they’d love to rent you their place, but they visited the U.S. a month ago and now can’t get back because of Covid is a scam. After the big, long sob story, they need you to send them the rent money, and then they’ll send you the keys to the apartment in the mail. As Ian Malcolm says in Jurrasic Park, ”That is one big pile of shit.” The longer the email you get back after you say you’re interested in their apartment, the more likely it’s a scam.

It might sound easy to spot a scam when reading it like this, but these jerks are getting more clever at disguising their duplicity. They got me to click through on many of their ads, but eventually, the scams fall apart as soon as the words “send the money” appear.

Next up for increasing my anxiety-o-meter in apartment hunting adventures is to check out shithole places.

Scams aside, I still didn’t get a lot of bites to see places to rent. (I was looking on the lower end of the price scale as I am trying to save up for something big, so I understand that I won’t be deciding between marble floors and hardwood in my next place. I’ll take what I can get, but I still have to live in this place, you know.) So I must have sent dozens of text messages that went unreturned. Same with emails. It was slim pickings.

But in this market, even if there aren’t many options to look at, there will always be shitholes to check out and pretend you’re interested. So off I went.

The first shithole place I went to see did not look like its online advertisement, as most shitholes wouldn’t. Why would anyone knowingly see a shithole unless they were looking for a shithole? Anyways, I was not looking for a shithole, but I found some all the same.

For this place, the pictures and wording made it seem like it was a separate unit from their house, large and spacious. It wasn’t. It was just a room upstairs. As soon as I walked in the front door, I could have turned around and walked out. It felt so wrong right from the beginning.

It was a massive house, and when you walked in the front door, there was only an open floor with no furniture in the central area. Instead, a 30-foot long, two-level shoe rack filled with shoes occupied the space where couches and chairs would typically go. The lighting was dim from the closed curtains, even in the middle of a sunny day, and the vast, empty area was lit by strings of LED lights down the walls that reminded me of a cheap nightclub. The whole ambiance was strange. At the top of the stairs was the room. It was maybe 250 square feet. There was a bathroom. And they put a fridge and a hotplate in there — $1200 per month. “Oh, but look how big the balcony is!”

Get bent.

Another place was a ground-floor ramshackle basement suite in Burnaby. This place had not been properly cleaned since the last tenant vacated/moved out/were evicted/got deported/went to jail/whatever. I wasn’t entirely sure they had ever adequately cleaned the place. The owner assured me that they would clean up, change the lightbulbs, replace the dryer, and scrub the walls of whatever was on them before I moved in. I am not sure what the smell was, but I was sure it would never come out — $1300 per month. “Oh, but look how close it is to all the shops on 6th Street.”

See ya.

At this point, I started freaking out a bit. Was I going to have to bite the proverbial bullet and rent one of these shitholes until next month and start my search all over again? God, I hoped not. But it was a distinct possibility.

So when I am freaking out a little bit, I do what anyone in my position would do: call my sponsor. I tell him about the shitholes, how this is such a terrible process, and how I don’t know what will happen if I can’t find a place soon.

He tells me everything will be OK, that I am doing all I can do, and that my higher power has a plan for me.

Sure. Easy for him to say.

Next up on rental roulette were the lovely places that 200 people apply for and one person gets.

One guy had an open house to showcase his rental in Coquitlam because there was so much interest. He organized a specific date and time for everyone to come to look at the place, had applications all ready to go, complete with a particular email address to send the completed applications.

In the five minutes I was there, six people walked through, with three more coming up the road to get a look. To be fair, it was a lovely place, so I suppose the hype was justified, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t fill out my application in my best penmanship and get on my hands and knees praying I would get it. I didn’t.


Next up, two basement suites. The homeowner had two places to rent, so I figured I had twice as good odds this time. I filled out all the paperwork and sent him (perhaps prematurely in retrospect) my financial statements saying I had money and could pay rent. He said he had so many applicants that he would get back to me next week, which would have been December 22. Cue the anxiety. Long story short and a few text messages later, I didn’t get the place. Or the second one.


Another call to my sponsor. Guess what he said? Don’t worry bro; everything will be OK; God has a plan.


So now I am really starting to worry about what to do next and what will happen. I was staying on an air mattress in my ex-girlfriend’s living room, wondering how much longer I would have to live there. Days? Weeks? (To her credit, she could not have been more accommodating and would have let me stay until I got on my feet. I’ll always be grateful for that.)

But it obviously wasn’t the most comfortable situation, physically and emotionally, and I wanted and needed to move on, physically and emotionally.

I went to see yet another place. This time I thought, “OK, I’m calm, I have faith, this place looks nice, I have a good report with the owner through texting; if I like it, I am fucking taking it.”

So I got in my Evo, put the address into Google Maps, and drove out there. Way out there. The place was charming and would have been perfect, except for one thing: it was way out there. I don’t have a car, there were no car share programs around the rental, and the bus comes once an hour.

But at this point, I am so desperate to have the security of a new home that I have already justified how I will get around these glaring transportation obstacles: “I have a bike.” “I can plan my trips to the grocery store.” “I can do all my meetings online.” “I’ll be fine sitting in this nice basement suite all by myself and never talking to anyone again.”

I am just about to say, “I’ll take it,” when he says, (HE says) “well, it was nice meeting you; why don’t you take the night to think about it and let me know.”

Sometimes my higher power does what I can’t do for myself.

I text my sponsor. I tell him how great the place is and that it’s in my price range. Then I tell him where it is. “Too far,” is all he texts back. Another call between him and me, and it’s more of the same. “You’re getting closer, bro; just keep the faith,” he keeps saying. I believe him, but I almost don’t by now, you know?

At this point, I am resigning to the idea that I will have to pick up my search after Christmas and hopefully find a good place for February 1. Or, more likely, I will just take the first place that comes up, pay month to month, cough up the extra rent for as short a time as possible, and continue the search when conditions improve. I was almost at the end of my rope.

That day was December 20. I was headed back to Calgary for Christmas in four days to see my family, and I had nothing to show for my exhaustive search for a place to stay.

In addition to finding a new place and getting in at the right time, I had to figure out when to travel to Calgary and for how long. I work from home, and so I need the internet. In my crazy mind, I needed to find a place to move into, secure a date to move in, fly to Calgary for Christmas, order the internet for my new place, have it installed so I wouldn’t miss any work, and change my flight home with time to move in and get set up for work Monday at 6 am.

More anxiety and worry.

Another call. My sponsor reassured me that I was still doing OK, doing everything I could and that the right place would present itself when the time was right.

After every call, even though I wasn’t any closer to my goal, I felt a little better. I started realizing that, yes, I was doing the work and doing everything I could do in this situation. Ironically, I was receiving more faith things would work out the longer this house hunting episode went on. I think it was because I was trying. There’s a massive difference between trying and not getting anywhere and not trying at all. I guess sometimes there’s just nothing left to do but have some acceptance, quit worrying, and let my higher power take the wheel. Besides, what good has worrying ever done for anyone?

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Then, a little light at the end of the tunnel. On December 20, four days before heading back to Calgary and calling off my search, I decided to look on Facebook Marketplace as I was refreshing Craigslist for the eleventh time that hour. I hadn’t looked on Marketplace before, so I gave it a shot. Why the hell not, right?

I immediately saw a place that looked good but not too good to be true. It was at the tail-end of my price range and was in the perfect neighbourhood. I sent the lady a text, and she got back to me in a couple of hours. Did I want to come to see the place tomorrow? Yes.

I walked over the next day, a beautiful sunny day at the end of December, and I met the landlord outside the building. Right away, I knew she was a good person. Do you know how you can sometimes tell when someone is a good person, or at least doesn’t put up with any bullshit? I could tell that about her.

The landlord and I chatted for a bit as she let me into the building. I met the caretaker on the way up. She was a lovely lady who gave me good advice on which internet service to buy. When we got up to the apartment, we chatted some more. She said she was showing the place to someone right after me, but she liked me, and it was mine if I wanted it. Yes!

And that was it. I signed the contract that night, got a friend to help me move in on the 23rd, went back to Calgary for Christmas, and came back on the 31st. I started the new year in my new apartment, just like I planned it (lol).

It was a journey, that’s for damn sure, but along the way, I found some patience, waded through a lot of bullshit, trusted some people that knew what was best for me, trusted the process, listened to my sponsor, and came out clean on the other side. I found a pretty great place.

The month I went through could have broken me. It could have made me a more cynical person. A month like that could have driven me to drink.

But it didn’t.

Sometimes it takes a whole lot of shit to happen to a person to regain some gratitude and get a perspective change. This entire adventure has strengthened me and made me more optimistic about my future. And it has definitely made me more grateful for the people in my life.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Well, bring it on. I am feeling strong and excited about my future.

Oh yeah, in my new place, there were cockroaches under the refrigerator.

Finding a new place to live was harrowing, but it was only the beginning. In fact, the moving in and getting settled process is a whole other can of worms.

But that’s another story…



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Graham Thurgood

Graham Thurgood

I write about what interests me, what’s worked for me, and how I can help others. Specifically, travel, moving to a new country, finance, and recovery.