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Editor’s Letter (July 2012): the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Toronto’s condo boom

Sarah FulfordBack in 2004, when I was in my late 20s, my husband and I bought a condo in Toronto for all the reasons young people typically buy condos: we wanted to be right downtown, close to the things we enjoyed, and we couldn’t afford a house in any of our favourite neighbourhoods. Plus, the ease of condo life appealed to us. With no kids and little furniture, we had modest space requirements, and we certainly didn’t want to spend our weekends doing home repairs. Still, it took us a while to find a condo we wanted to live in. Even though many of the buildings we saw were just a few years old, they already looked timeworn, with cracking drywall and battered fixtures. If the finishes were shoddy, I worried there might be structural deficiencies, too. We ended up buying a one-bedroom-plus-den in a 1980s building—ancient by Toronto condo standards. Nothing about the common areas looked cool (in fact, the hallways had dated pink carpets), but the structure was reassuringly solid. In the few happy years we lived there, no infrastructure problems were revealed, the building was well maintained, and the monthly fees never went up.

Since then, hundreds of new condos have risen in the city. The pace of development has been frenetic—and that’s mainly a good thing. For decades, the downtown core was under-built and the city’s skyline remained unchanged. The new skyscrapers are populating formerly empty areas of the city, spawning new restaurants and retail, and creating vibrant new neighbourhoods. Condos can largely be credited with revitalizing Toronto’s core. The vast majority of the 160 or so condos now in development are within a kilo­metre or two of Union Station, which means we can expect Toronto to get even more dense and interesting in the next few years.

I have no sympathy for house owners who resent condo development. One of the city’s latest condo-related squabbles happened in the Beach, where a developer’s plans to replace the Lick’s on Queen East with a six-storey residential complex met with bitter resistance. In my opinion, the Beach could use a new condo or two. Or maybe 12. But not all condos are created equal, and the health of the city depends on good-quality construction. Developers are not just selling units to individual purchasers; they’re erecting a new city that could last generations. When panes of glass began falling from a series of condo balconies onto the street in 2010, many people wondered: in our haste, have we built a city of vertical time bombs?

Philip Preville goes a long way to answer that question in “Faulty Towers” (page 36), his richly reported cover story. He argues that the city’s current condo boom, with its Wild West feel, has inherent dangers: developers and contractors want to pocket as much profit as they can before the boom ends, so everyone’s working fast (sometimes cutting corners). And, because condos are so good for the city’s economy, nobody wants to slow the boom down to ensure builders meet higher standards. In this environment, some developers will make excellent buildings. Others won’t.

If I were in my 20s again, looking for my first property, I’m not certain how I would ensure that the tiny space in the sky I was about to spend $300,000 on was a safe, solid investment. You can’t get a home inspection of a brochure or website or model suite. We hope our cover story will spell out some of the potential pitfalls—or better yet, lead to a broader discussion about how to protect the consumer, and the city itself.

(Image: Christopher Wahl)

  • cathie

    “I have no sympathy for house owners who resent condo development”. Then I’m guessing you live away from any major road where there’s no chance you’ll get a condo as your neighbour. I can see Bathurst Street from my front lawn, and have seen my sleepy, single-family home neighbourhood change dramatically (not always for the good) due to a condo. 20 years ago when we moved in you never thought about that issue. There’s a lot of negatives to having a condo as a neighbour, starting with two years of construction workers parking in front of your home and using your lawn as a toilet.

  • margarets

    This letter is all over the place. Is it about the effects of the condo boom on Toronto’s well-being now and into the future, or is it about Fulford’s personal experience of and feelings about condos?

  • Kevin

    the usual comment: Are they going to be easy to heat and cool if nuclear turns out to be a hoax somewhere along the line; sometime before or after hydro realizes that oil, gas and coal are not permanent either?

  • Condo Hazards

    The condos popping up all over Toronto are probably not built all that well. Someone I know who is working on Shangri-La, one of the most expensive, is appalled at how he has to paste expensive finishes on shoddy work — and that is an expensive condo! I think we have a scandal waiting to unfold, and those left holding the condos when the deficiencies become apparent will see their fees skyrocket to cover the deficiencies that happened in order to line the developers’ pockets. I hope there is legislation in planning that puts the developers on the hook for shoddy work.

  • Condo Owners Association

    The concern is with the high density of new construction and the Ontario Municipal Board having the power to override the Municipalities master plans on height restrictions. We also have a Condo Act which is 14 years old and only recently the Ministry of Consumer Services supported by the McGuinty Governments announcement to “Build a Better Condo Act” by modernizing the act are partaking in studies and stakeholder meetings to establish guideliness and conversations on the changes.

    Condo Owners desparately need to understand the complexity of their home and recognize that they live in a community environment with shared investment ownership on the building and not just single ownership on the unit. Most condominium buldings value over $80 Million dollars Plus so to sustain viability in the marketplace and protection on investment they must be build properly and the Board of Directors must be equipped to run the operations of the Condominium Corporation with good sound transparent business judgement. The Condo Owners Association is a Registered Non-Profit Association representing Condominium Owners and provides a cohesive united voice to represent them to all levels of Government so there is protection for Condo Owners by “membership”. Home Owners of single family homes cannot turn their heads and ignore the problems in Condos. As the first time buyers purchase Condo,trade up to a semi or detached home; the majority eventually downsizes back to the Condo market. Real Estate is an evalution of time and a domino affect is the natural course so “All Home Owners are affected” by the negative press and circumstances arising from latest concerns regarding Condos. The best practice for a cure is knowledge, understanding, positive initiations plus prevention.

    Condo Owners need COA – Condo Owners Association to support positive changes and to support a prosperous and sustainable economic environment to the quality of life in Condo Communities. COAontario