OPINION: Living in a basement apartment is not a mood

Jan 30, 2020 | Opinion

Kajal Mangesh Pawar, News Editor

The horrible housing situation in Toronto is not news to anyone. Toronto has the highest housing rents in Canada, the January 2020 Canadian Rental Report said.

There is an immense lack of affordable housing options, which is why many students pick up basement apartments in an effort to save money – much like I did.

While basement apartments go easy on the pockets, with them come their own sets of problems.

Apart from the general disadvantages of living in colder temperatures, higher chances of mould and increased risk of fire – the lack of exposure to sunlight can cause serious mental health effects.

The Ontario government has minimum guidelines for having a basement apartment which includes municipal zoning requirements, building permits and inspections. Window size, size of room and ceiling height are also regulated, Ontario.ca said.

Basement apartments usually have tiny windows closer to the ceiling or no windows at all, which never allow anyone to look into the neighbourhood – much like a prison cell.

As I missed sitting by a window soaking in sunlight and sipping on tea, or reading a book – I realized the lack of control I had over my own surroundings in a basement.

“Such places have a way of isolating you. And you never know what is going on outside. I’m always surprised by the weather when I step out,” said Reza Fatima, my roommate.

During weekends when I don’t have classes or work to attend to, it’s hard to keep track of time and that affects my sleep schedule heavily. This affects my productivity and it often puts me in a slump.

A study by Queensland Centre for Schizophrenia Research suggested the human brain contains Vitamin D receptors, indicating that mood and depressive disorders can be caused by Vitamin D deficiency acting on brain cells.

Basement apartments depend on artificial light. Increased exposure to artificial light decreases levels of Melatonin, according to Resources to Recover’s website. Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for our sleep-wake cycle.

Living in basements is like living in an all-time winter. It’s always cold and you feel sleepy all the time.

The mental effects of living in a basement are much like the Seasonal Affective Disorder, where changes in seasons – especially the winter causes depression.

SAD is treated using light therapy and it is recommended to spend at least 30 minutes of the day in natural sunlight to treat depression. Sunlight boosts the production of serotonin – the “happy hormone.”

About 15% of secondary rental suites in Canada are illegal, according to the survey by Square One Insurance services conducted on 5500 house owners in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

The survey revealed that 11 per cent of all house owners rent out a portion of their home to non-family members. Alberta had the highest percentage at 14 per cent, followed by British Columbia at 13 per cent and Ontario at 9 per cent.

Considering the prevalence of illegal basement suites and casual arrangements of landlords and tenants, there are severe gaps in data and information on such apartments.

Such lack of data makes it easier to exploit the tenants, which in most cases are students.