Lessons in renting with Alyssa Garrison

Alyssa Garrison founded Random Acts of Pastel Opens in new window as a street art concept and has grown it into a full lifestyle brand. She approaches life with rose-tinted glasses and never let constant apartment problems get her down.

I’ve had so many issues with apartments over the years. At this point, I’ve only ever lasted at two of my 12 apartments for more than a single year. I’ve dealt with bug infestations, mould, and leaks (most of which are not covered under your typical home insurance policy, by the way). I’ve seen it all. Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with any major disasters or had to completely start over. I’ve also learned a lot along the way about renting, landlords, insurance, and what to look for when searching for a home.

My story

Two years ago, I settled into a place I was sure I’d stay until I was ready to buy. It was a beautiful two storey loft space on one of my favourite streets in the city. It was everything I’d ever hoped my home would be. My roommate Johanna and I had noticed a small wet patch on the ceiling when we moved in but we weren’t too worried, and the landlord had immediately fixed it.

It was affectionately known as The Pastel Palace. I invested in nice furniture, set up a home office, and even planted a garden on my patio off the bedroom. I had never felt more rooted.

Until it started raining. Inside. Turns out in that apartment, when it rained it poured!

Luckily, not much of mine was destroyed, but there was quite a bit of damage to the unit itself. Fortunately for us, that’s for the landlord to worry about.

Pro trip #1
Your landlord’s coverage doesn’t protect your stuff. Your landlord’s insurance would likely cover the walls around you and any major appliances that came with your unit. Beyond that, everything else is on you.
Choose your landlord wisely

I got the phone call that our place was flooding when I was enjoying some sun in California. Johanna was faced with the impossible task of contacting our landlord, who was always hard to reach and angry we called with “more problems.” After multiple attempts to fix the problem, the roof continued to bubble, break, and eventually leak again. The repairs were more like patching from what we could see. It likely would've taken a massive renovation to fix the problem, which our landlord didn't care to do, so she just had the hole covered again and again.

Pro trip #2
Damage caused by ongoing issues like repeated leaks may not be covered under your tenant’s policy. It’s best to take precautionary action to protect your contents while working with your landlord to have them remedy the situation.

It’s technically illegal to withhold rent, so in the end all we could do was get out of the situation as quickly as possible. We tried calling the tenant board and the city, but both resulted in dead ends. Thankfully, we were already over a year in and on a month-to-month lease, so the contract wasn’t a concern. We wrote a letter giving official notice but we never heard back again.

In an ideal world, maybe you stand your ground and take the landlord to the tenancy board, but in this case, it was best just to move on and to avoid the same mistakes again.

Inspect the unit like a detective

While I’ve had to go through some rough times finding apartments, I learned a lot that helped me in searching for a new place. I was so much more aware when "shopping" this time around – checking under cupboards, inside fridges and especially checking ceilings for any sign of wetness, mould or decay. I was also looking for something brand new in the hopes of avoiding more problems. With that being said, you'd be amazed the damage and building errors I saw in new builds. It can be terrifying out there!

Pro trip #3
Whether it’s a new build or an old house, look closely for pre-existing conditions like any signs of stains or moisture around plumbing and cracks in the foundation. These could result in a denial of your claim if something ever happened.

To help me find a new place, I hired a real estate agent and saw as many places as I could in the span of a few days. I wanted to find something quickly, but I also wanted a second set of eyes to ensure I didn't end up in another "sketchy" situation with a landlord who didn't take calls or maintain their unit. I even applied for a mortgage, but in the end decided to try renting a condo before investing in anything.

One more move

It would have been wonderful to avoid all these problems, but going through that gave me the experience to deal with scary scams and absent landlords. While I enjoyed condo life for a short time, I’m making one last move and settling into an apartment in a larger home with a backyard and room to grow. I hunted long enough to find a great space with an amazing landlord. I’ve slowly been investing in items that will last and will be sure to always have tenant’s insurance now and to protect my most expensive things.

Always remember, you may expect sunny skies when you move in, but you never know when it might rain.


Whether you rent or own, make sure you have the right coverage. Get a quote today!