Residents angered over condo conversion

[attach]7005[/attach]An application to convert an iconic Leaside apartment complex into condominiums has confused and angered its existing tenants.

Originally constructed in 1941, Garden Court’s 10 art deco buildings frame a stone path that winds through green space, cherubic statues, planters filled with colourful bushes and symmetrically planted trees.

The owners have said the conversion is necessary to keep the buildings, at 1477 Bayview Ave., in top form.

“The grounds are beautiful,” said lawyer Mark McMackin, who represents the owners. “But it’s an expensive building to maintain.”

[url=]Leaside Property Owners’ Association[/url] vice president Carol Burtin Fripp said the Garden Court owners’ explanation doesn’t hold water.

“There are city bylaws that say the inspector will come and tell the landlord, ‘you own this property, you have to make sure the infrastructure is in good shape,’ ” she said. “You don’t need the excuse of wanting to convert.”

The owner’s application came before North York Community Council on Apr. 9 and was deferred at the request of Ward 26’s councillor [url=]John Parker[/url].

[attach]7006[/attach]“The City of Toronto has strict limitations on the landlord’s rights to pursue a conversion,” Parker said. “In my view those circumstances do not apply in this case, and I do not expect the application to go ahead at this time.”

At the council meeting, residents expressed concern they would be evicted, but McMackin said they have nothing to worry about: sitting tenants cannot be forced out of their homes under section 51 of Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act.

“I’ve been doing condo conversions since 1998, and that is the golden rule,” McMackin said. “The act is such that even if the owner wanted to sell the unit off … whoever came along and bought a unit can’t live in the unit as long as the sitting tenant is in that unit.”

The official council minutes and at least one sign posted on the property call the proposal a “rental housing demolition and conversion,” which Parker said understandably upset many residents.

“It’s a technical term,” he said. “We treat it as though the buildings are being demolished from a legal standpoint, because the proposal would reduce the rental stock.”

The city has several policies in place to maintain a healthy rental market in each of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, including Leaside.
City planner Lauralyn Johnston said that in Canada a healthy rental market is usually considered to have between three and four percent vacancy.

“We are not close to that,” she said. “We have not been close to that for a very long time.”

Parker said the city would only allow a conversion under one of two circumstances: if the area already contains enough rental housing (which he says is unlikely to succeed as Leaside is short on rental accommodation), or if tenants are paying luxury rents that would be outside the average renter’s price range.

McMackin said that Garden Court is a luxury building with many long-term residents paying far less than their units are actually worth because of rent control.

“Certain things need to be done to the buildings to keep them up to luxury standard,” he said. “It’s very difficult when there are people in those buildings paying $800 or $900 a month because they’ve been there for 38 years.”

“When they do move out, the rents go up enormously,” he said.

Parker said that Garden Court may qualify for conversion based on high rent in the future.

“But we haven’t come to that day yet,” he said.

McMackin held a meeting with the tenants in late April, explaining the owners’ reasons for the application and assuring residents that none of their rental agreements were in danger.

“We value the tenants immensely and we’re going to continue keeping them informed,” McMackin said. “We’re likely going to have another meeting to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to come so that we can explain to them again that there’s nothing afoot to harm their homes … and they can stay as long as they like.”

None of Garden Court’s residents would openly discuss the application with the Town Crier, but many attended a Leaside Property Owners’ Association meeting on May 1, where they formed the Garden Courts Tenants’ Association.

Parker emphasized the application process has only begun.

“We have a rigorous tenant protection policy in the city of Toronto,” he said. “I support that policy, and I will see to it that the policy is used in all of its full force and measure to support the interests and concerns of the residents of Garden Court.”