A reader emailed me last week and asked if I was “playing favourites,” since there’s no topic I won’t touch, and yet for some reason, I haven’t written about one of the most dramatic and newsworthy stories in real estate in the past few months.
He said, “I guess you own like twelve condos in Liberty Village.” Not true. I only own eleven…
Let’s talk about what happened with the explosion of a meth lab in a condo on East Liberty Street, but also why, in my opinion, this won’t affect real estate values as we move forward…
I guess Breaking Bad has put meth on the map, huh?
Back in my day, people would just grow marijuana plants throughout their rented 1-bedroom condo until they got caught, and were let go, by the police. More on that later…
But if you haven’t heard about what happened in Liberty Village about one month ago, then I guess you’re a bit behind.
Google “meth lab Toronto” and the auto-complete adds in “Liberty Village.” Go figure.
There’s no shortage of articles that explain what happened, but let me give you a brief refresher.
On the evening of November 17th, an explosion occurred in a rented unit on East Liberty Street, that blew the entire unit apart.
The explosion blew right through the walls of the unit, and into the hallways.
The explosion blew the elevators doors out as well, and it took several days to get them back up and running.
The resident, who is alleged to have been cooking methamphetamine, was home, but amazingly didn’t die!
How the hell did he live through this:
This guy is lucky to be alive.
He’s in jail, and facing a trial and a jail sentence, but still lucky to be alive.
There’s a LOT to discuss here.
And keep in mind, just in case you live in Liberty Village and are offended by the idea of somebody talking about this on a blog, that the subject matter we are discussing is something called “news.”
And also keep in mind, that I will argue that this event will ultimately have zero impact on real estate values in Liberty Village, and this building in particular.
So here are the main discussion points and questions to be asked and answered:
1. What exactly happened, and what was the outcome?
Here’s a letter that was sent out from property management to the residents that explained what happened, point by point, although I’m going to censor the unit number:
This email serves to inform all King West residents of the known information regarding the explosion that occurred this past Monday at approximately 6:30 pm at xx East Liberty.
1: The explosion occurred in suite xxx at xx East Liberty Street.
2: The unit was tenanted. His real name is Andre Hagen. He went by the alias Andre Maure.
3: All of Andre’s tenant information, banking information, ID, ect, were all under his alias.
4: Andre Hagen is in police custody and will not be released.
5: Elevator repairs, restoration, cleanup, etc, is all still under investigation. The estimated time of completion for these repairs is three to six months.
6: One elevator in xx is currently working. Due to the ongoing investigations, the timeline to restore the other two elevators will be extended. We do not yet have an ETA on these repairs.
7: The police have confirmed that the explosion was the result of illicit drug preparation.
We appreciate your continued patience and understanding throughout this difficult time.
The information regarding the accused is public record, so there’s nothing wrong with the property manager emailing this out to residents.
In fact, I commend the property manager for putting together this email, and doing so in a timely fashion.
I frequently complain that property management companies, and building concierges, treat residents like children, but here’s a case where a major event occurred, and management kept the residents informed. They have a right to know, and if not told, they’re going to ask, over and over…
2. How did this person come to rent this condo, and who is at fault?
I have to admit – I was VERY curious to know if this unit was leased on MLS, through an active Realtor, but I did a search and it’s never been up for sale or for lease before.
It would have been scary to think that a Realtor who works with tenants could have brought this person to the table as a candidate, and I’m relieved to know this isn’t the case.
However, the owner of the unit, who must have found his or her own tenant, has to ask, “How could I have let this happen?”
I’m not going to turn this into an advertisement for hiring a Realtor, but clearly part of the reason you do hire a Realtor is so that you attract a quality tenant. When I have a property for lease, I get an Equifax credit report, a job letter, pay stub, list of previous residences, personal references, and often, I meet the candidate or my landlord does.
If either I or my client decide we need more information, we often request T1’s or NOA’s
You can fake a job letter quite easily by simply using MS Word and copying a company logo off the Internet. You can lie on your rental application as easily as you can make up previous places of residence.
But can you fake ALL of the above? And if you’re a meth-lab operator, and a landlord is asking for copies of your past tax returns, you’d probably just look for a landlord who asks fewer questions, wouldn’t you?
I hope that the owner/investor/landlord who owned this condo did his or her due diligence when renting the unit, and didn’t just accept the first person who brought first-and-last month’s rent.
This event should serve as a great piece of evidence as to why landlords should have the right to be “choosey.”
3. What happens to the building, and who pays for the damage?
One of the largest expenses for any condominium corporation is insurance. Look it up the next time you’re thumbing through a condominium’s financial documents.
I’m happy to say that, from what I understand, all of the damage caused will be covered by insurance, and at this point, most of the damage has been repaired.
There doesn’t appear to be any structural damage to the building either. Again, I’m not a structural engineer, and obviously I haven’t examined the inner workings of the entire building myself, but real estate is a pretty tight community and I’ve spoken to people in the know who have told me that it’s just the interior free-standing walls that were damaged, and nothing load-bearing.
I don’t have a dollar figure for the damage, and I probably won’t. That’s something that’s quite newsworthy, and I don’t think property management will give out that number. But the damage wasn’t as bad as many people had feared, and now that the mess has been cleaned up, it’s up to the condominium corporation and property management to deal with the insurance.
4. How does this affect future values in the building?
I’m not going to suggest that the day after this explosion took place, and the story was all over the news, that units up for sale didn’t see a dip in interest. In fact, I’d be the first to suggest that for the next couple weeks, those units probably had no takers.
However, I don’t think this will affect the short or long-term value of these units, whatsoever.
Disagree if you want, but in my experience, the real estate market has a very short memory, as do its participants.
This was a story in November, and new news has a way of displacing old news, very quickly!
A few months from now, this will be nothing but a footnote. A year from now, people will have forgotten, and nobody will care, especially not active condo buyers.
People buy into Liberty Village for the lifestyle and the prices, and neither of those have been affected.
Nothing has changed in Liberty Village, and provided nothing changes with the financials of the condominium corporation (which they’re not expected to), then I don’t believe buyers will be harder to find.
So as long as there are still active condo buyers with budgetary restraints, there will be a market in this building.
When I was living at 230 King Street, my next door neighbour got busted for growing eighty marijuana plants in her unit, and the story ceased to be news about a day after it happened. A couple of years later, there was a suicide in the building, in a dark and grisly manner which I won’t get into. But suffice it to say – here are two incidents that I witnessed in my old building, and that’s just ONE building in the city.
Every building has a story to tell, and many of those stories grow old, and are forgotten.
5. How does this affect the reputation of Liberty Village?
This is one incident. It’s a big event, no doubt, and it was much talked-about.
But as I said above, people have very short memories.
I don’t see any sort of “Liberty Village is a drug den” mentality among the public, and none of my active condo buyers have told me, “I want to stay out of that area.”
I have clients at Toy Factory, in all three of the Monarch buildings, several in the townhouses on Western Battery & East Liberty, and a few in the newer East Liberty towers. Just over a dozen in total, and none of them have reached out to voice any concern.
People buy into Liberty Village because it’s affordable, it’s a vibrant community, and it’s surrounded by a slew of supporting infrastructure, which many other condo clusters are not. Make no mistake: Liberty Village isn’t “luxury,” but I don’t think anybody, including the residents, expect it to be.
It’s also not immune to the odd incident, just as most neighbourhoods in Toronto aren’t either.
To a lot of people, this story is kind of funny, in a dark sort of way. If you go to Google Images and search “Liberty Village,” the auto-correct fills in “condo explosion” for you, which means a lot of people are searching out of morbid curiosity.
To others, this is just a reality of what happens in a city with millions of people.
To me, it was newsworthy just long enough for me to forget about, until somebody asked why I didn’t write about it…