Bad landlords free to gouge

Eye Weekly, August, 19, 1999


While researching a story on Toronto's worst landlords last winter, one of eye's reporters met with Jeffrey and Paul Wynn. Through Wynn Family Properties, the brothers own 22 apartment buildings and 12 commercial centres in the city. Their head office on Dupont Street is a medium-sized building from which a variety of businesses are run, including a small film company that makes B-grade action flicks (Paul's pet interest).

Not surprisingly, the Wynns were unhappy to hear that they were being lumped in with the landlords from hell. The brothers, both in their 30s, were charming and self-confident, comfortable in their skins as wealthy yuppie businessmen. At one point Paul even jokingly acknowledged the Wynns' notoriety as the "landlord Nazis of Toronto." Still, they tried to impress upon our reporter that they were burdened with the legacy of their father, Phil, whose reputation as a slum landlord was cemented during the '60s and '70s. The brothers argued that they were different and were greatly concerned about the well-being of their tenants.

That's not what the 2,000 low-income tenants at West Lodge are saying. Standing on the edge of Parkdale, West Lodge consists of two 19-storey towers housing 720 units. Recently, the Wynns announced that rents on these units will rise by an average of 35 per cent this fall. Some tenants will see their rents jump by as much as 50 per cent.

Yet the Wynns are not alone in demanding such rent increases. Ever since the Harris government phased out rent controls and rewrote the landlord-tenant laws, landlords have been zealously applying for rents above the maximum guidelines, arguing that the costs of "repairs" should be borne by tenants.

The Wynns are following this script closely. Originally Phil Wynn bought West Lodge in the '60s, then allowed the buildings to fall apart. In 1978, the Wynns sold West Lodge to a Montreal-based developer, although the family retained mortgages on the property. The buildings continued to decline, with the city issuing 600 work orders against the owners. The landlord responded by abandoning West Lodge in 1994.

That's when the West Lodge tenants decided to form a housing co-op: after all, they were fed up with slum landlords and wanted to run the place themselves. The tenants cobbled together a bid of $12.8 million to buy the buildings. But the Wynns kept jacking up the price and the co-op dream died. Instead, two years ago, the Wynns bought West Lodge again for $20 million. However, the courts demanded that certain repairs be carried out, which the Wynns have completed. Now they want the $7 million they say they invested in the buildings returned. Hence the rent increases. The Wynns' greed has won over any sense of common decency.

This story suggests that tenants are unlikely to find any respite from profit-hungry landlords if they remain passive. Tenant associations need to be formed, political action engaged in and a lot of fuss stirred up if rent controls are ever to return again. Indeed, tenants could take pointers from the anti-poverty activists who occupied Allan Gardens. Otherwise, given the Harris government's indifference, landlords will hold the upper hand indefinitely.

Back to the West Lodge (Toronto) Tenants Association home page.

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