Just a couple of days after posting in a Facebook group that she was in search of a cheap place to rent in Toronto, Tyne Robinson had a handful of apartment options to visit.
It’s a rare occurrence in Toronto these days for prospective renters to find various options to choose from, especially if they’re operating with a modest budget. A one-bedroom condo in Toronto on average has surpassed $2,000 a month, according to market research firm Urbanation.
But Robinson, 22, whose post in the Bunz Home Zone group said she was searching for a room with a maximum monthly rent of $850, was able to quickly attract the attention of potential landlords. One of her tricks was to use a picture of herself and link to her Instagram page, where she has nearly 2,500 followers.
“I do think it helped get more responses,” she said, adding a number of her friends found rental apartments after using pictures in their “in-search-of” posts. Since many homeowners/landlords may be looking for roommates, Robinson said it’s important to find someone they think they can get along with.
“Social media is a form of personal expression and if people could see the things I post and they’re into similar things, then they would message me,” she said.
Most people searching for places to live on the Bunz group included images. Some while on vacation, eating dinner, socializing with friends or their pets, or simply in professional outfits. And it’s not just on Facebook and other social media. Even Craigslist and Kijiji websites are awash with images of individuals, but young and old, and couples looking for places to rent.
“As the rental crisis gets worse, people are now going into the rental market and when they realize how nightmarish it is, they quickly start to try to get a leg up on other competitors,” said Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Association.
“There’s no actual guarantee it’s really going to help, but if you got a face on your application versus 10 that don’t, maybe it humanizes you a little bit more and makes you stand out,” he said.
Lilliana Molek, 19, another prospective renter who recently posted pictures in the same Bunz group — including one showing her relaxing on the water, another at a workplace — in the hopes of finding a roommate for under $700 in the city’s west end, said it adds a level of trust to the potential interactions she hopes to have with the landlords.
Pictures were her way of saying “I’m a real person,” she said.
When she’s reading through posts, she often stops and reads those with pictures while scrolling past those without pictures, she said.
“I also think there’s a lot of superficiality today. People judge a lot based on simply your appearance,” she said. “If you’re a good-looking person, you look more trustworthy, more approachable, and a person would be more inclined to live with you.”
The risk for a prospect tenant of sharing pictures is that it can fuel sentiments of discrimination from some landlords if tenants happen to be from a historically disenfranchised group — such as a disabled individual or a person of colour, Dent added.
“The first thing that a landlord notices is the colour of your skin,” said University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski, whose research focuses on housing and rental markets.
He said he’s encountered many people from minority groups who say landlords tell them a place is taken, and if they phone back and don’t have an accent, they’re invited to view the same apartment.
The use of pictures while looking for rent, much like adding a picture to a resume while applying for a job, shows how hopeless the situation has become and how tough it is to find a good place at a fair price, Hulchanski said.
“People will do their best to attract the attention of the landlord for an available place,” he said. “Some are saying ‘I have nothing to lose, here’s who I am if you are interested, or if that helps.’”
Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo