You know that saying, “Things happen in three’s”?
While I was away, I read three different articles about abandoned, dilapidated, or forgotten properties in Toronto, and how neighbours are left to deal with the fallout.
Let’s look at the three stories in the three articles, and check out some online resources that the City of Toronto provides for home-owners who are frustrated by abandoned homes, and then have the obligatory conversation about why nothing ever gets done about them…
What are the odds?
THREE articles, all dealing with the same topic, and two were written a few days apart!
Does this mean that abandoned houses are “hot” right now? Are they trending?
I really don’t understand hash-tags, but that’s a topic for another day…
Despite how hot the Toronto real estate market is in Toronto, there are houses that sit abandoned, boarded-up, or are in terrible repair.
It might seem crazy to you or I to think about somebody letting an asset of substantial value fall into disrepair, but as the three articles detail, it does happen.
The neighbours on the street are the ones that feel the full effect, not the owners. The owners usually have some strange reason for letting the house fall apart (or as we’ll see in one article – they themselves are strange), but often for the neighbours, the problem is finding the owners in the first place!
To be honest, I don’t consider that a good enough excuse. We live in the world of the Internet! Nobody is anonymous anymore! (except for that group Anonymous; they’re really anonymous)
I can look up any house in Toronto, right now, and find out who owns it. I can use Public Records, Land Registry, Geowarehouse, et al.
You can look up who owns a house as well; you just have to pay for access to one of these systems, or go to whatever branch of government provides this information (sorry – first day back, I can’t dig this up right now…).
So in this Toronto Star article, “Toronto House Left Vacant For 27 Years A Local Mystery,” the tone is set with the headline and the word “mystery” when in reality, it took me ten seconds to find out who owns the house.
The article dug a bit deeper and revealed the current owner of the house is an 80-year-old man who lives in Whitby, and pays all the property taxes and all the fines that have been levied against the house! His parents were the previous owners, but they haven’t occupied the home since 1988, and it’s been vacant ever since.
I suppose the “mystery” angle is based on the fact that the man hasn’t been back to the house in over twenty years, after his father died, and his mother “went away in an ambulance” and never came back.
It’s not quite John Grisham, if you ask me. I think this 80-year-old man really just doesn’t want to detail his life story in the newspaper, although his “….it’s a human tragedy” quote that ended the article leaves that up for debate.
Nevertheless, the house has effectively been abandoned, and photos in the article show belongings in the home as they were left 27-years-ago, and remain untouched to this day.
The neighbours continue to try to “do something” about the house, whatever that means by city official standards. The article mentions that City Councilor Cesar Palacio met with police, city licensing officials, and residents to try to come to a solution.
The problems that these houses create are quick to be written about in newspapers and portrayed in TV newscasts, but the solutions almost never are.
Here’s another article, same idea, just less of a sad, personal interest angle:
If you read the article you’ll see that this isn’t a “sad, personal interest” story, like the previous story where the 80-year-old man can’t bear to go back to his childhood home, but pays the taxes and fines.
No, this story is more of a “weird, strange, bizarre, personal interest” story, where the owner of the house isn’t allowed to live in the house, so he lives in a tent out back!
You seriously can’t make this stuff up.
Apparently, raccoons live inside the house, so the owner lives out back.
While this might be funny, entertaining, or intriguing to those of us reading it, the frustrating part for neighbours is that every one of these cases is different, and often involves a different wing of the government to get the problem solved.
The “Toronto Building Department” might be involved if the issue is with the condition of the structure.
“Toronto Public Health” is often involved when the home is uninhabitable, and “Mental Health” at Toronto Public Health can be involved when the owner him or herself is no longer fit to live in the home (ie. when there are 97 cats, and the home-owner thinks it’s 1924…)
“Toronto Municipal Licensing & Standards” carries most of the burden, however. This is where you complain when there’s a “problem house” on your street.
In fact, you can search a property’s address to see if there’s ever been a complaint, and you can even read the file. Check out this page HERE.
Here’s their drop-down menu of “problems” with houses:
I’m sure we could all put our heads together and come up with a few more beauties for that list…
Another option beyond asking the City of Toronto to deal with the problem, is to go to the media, like Jack Krasowski, and look really pissed in the online photo:
This article, “City Takes Years To Deal With ‘Eyesore’ House,” doesn’t hit on the same “personal interest” or “human emotion” angle.
This article, via the resident above, casts blame on the City of Toronto for not doing more, faster, to get the problem taken care of.
Mr. Krasowski, pictured above, owns a semi-detached house in the Junction, which is probably worth a million bucks. And he’s joined at the hip with a house that is literally falling apart, which is “taking his house” down with it.
He’s tried for years to get the City of Toronto to help him, but as I mentioned above – there are several wings of government to deal with, and the CBC article details that the buck is being passed. Here’s an excerpt:
Mark Sraga became aware of the problem when CBC News contacted Municipal Licensing and Standards. The MLS director of investigation confirmed taking possession of the house is a possibility but said the situation is complicated.
Sraga’s department oversees bylaw infractions, like waste and debris on properties. Toronto Building supervises structural problems and Revenue Services is in charge of property tax issues and launching the legal process to take possession.
This house, he said, falls under all three departments. He also believed MLS charged the homeowner for a property maintenance infraction in 2010 but is the process of investigating those details.
So Mr. Sraga, the head of the Municipal Licensing & Standards, is passing the buck on to Toronto Building.
But ultimately Toronto Building won’t be able to do much, since Revenue Services is the only one who can really put a dent in the home-owner’s pocket.
This is all just a big circle you-know-what.
The bottom line is: there aren’t necessary procedures, and powers, in place for city officials to deal with abandoned properties.
In fact, there was a CBC story written about this fifteen months ago: “Abandoned Properties By-Laws Needs To Change: City Staff.”
How much has been done since then?
I’m not a gambling man, but I’d bet my hat the answer is: nothing!
The City of Toronto can bar entry to a home if it’s deemed unsafe.
The City of Toronto can remove an inhabitant who is mentally unstable.
The City of Toronto can issue fines to the home-owner for a multitude of by-law infractions.
But at what point can the City of Toronto physically step in and tear down a house?
That’s the question many frustrated residents want to know, and the question that no City of Toronto official is going to answer. Instead, we get legal speak like, “…..it’s a complicated process, with many moving parts, and it could take years and years to move through the courts.”
I’m the LAST person you ever thought would suggest that we give city officials and/or politicians more power, but if somebody has abandoned a house for over five years, I have to think the city is within their rights to step in.
And please don’t make the “land banking” argument.
I just came from Idaho where there are hundreds and hundreds of plots of land, owned by “land bankers” for long-term investment, as well as actual houses. The difference is: a true land-banker will hire somebody to periodically check up on the house – even if that’s just twice a year, and remedy any reasonable issues that arise.
The cases cited in the articles above all scream for the City of Toronto to intervene, on behalf of the residents who pay the salaries of these city officials, and whose tax dollars create ministries, divisions, councils, committee’s, et al. I understand the frustrations of these residents who watch city officials sit on their hands.
Ugh. Sorry. First day back, and I’m pretty salty.
Besides, if we really wanted to talk about tax-payer money, we could talk about a new $1,600 per year provincial tax disguised as a pension, forced on us by a government who doesn’t have to account for the money until the year 2022. I can’t wait to see how this one plays out…