Catch-up rent hike a shocker

After a 10-year freeze, Parkdale tenants may pay 50 per cent more

Toronto Star, August 4, 1999

By Joel Baglole

Tenants of two troubled Parkdale apartment buildings are up in arms after being told their monthly rent will increase by an average of 35 per cent.

Approximately 2,000 residents who live at 103 and 105 West Lodge Ave. were informed during the weekend that their rent will rise, beginning Nov. 1 - exactly 10 years after the provincial government froze rents at the 722 apartment units until repairs were made to the two buildings.

While the average increase is 35 per cent, some people have been informed their monthly rent is going up by as much as 50 per cent.

Paul Fomin, a 33-year-old Ukrainian immigrant who has lived at 103 West Lodge since arriving in Toronto in 1992, was told Friday that rent for his bachelor apartment is jumping by $147.47 a month, to $533.11.

"It's too much for a single rent increase," says Fomin, an information technology student at Centennial College, who lives on student loans and a part-time job at a bakery that pays $7.50 an hour.

"I'm very upset. It's too expensive. I might have to move," he says.

Anna Thaker, president of the West Lodge Tenants Association, has seen rent for her bachelor apartment increase by $136.50 per month, to $526.50. Thaker is outraged and has called a tenants meeting for this evening at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of Parkdale Public School.

"It's not fair," says Thaker, who has lived in the West Lodge buildings for 20 years and is unemployed.

"The (owners) want to raise the rents from 1989 levels, but why should they be allowed to do it (all) at once? Many people here are on social assistance. They can't afford the increases."

But Paul and Jeffrey Wynn, sons of former landlord Phil Wynn and current owners of the West Lodge buildings, say the rent hikes are legal and justified.

"It's a cumulative increase," says Jeffrey Wynn, 36, whose family trust, The Wynn Group, owns 22 apartment buildings and 12 commercial centres in Toronto.

"We're playing catch-up. The (tenants) haven't paid a rent increase since 1989, while the rest of the city has gone up. Now we're asking them to pay market-value rent for the apartments."

The Wynn brothers purchased the two 19-storey towers near Lansdowne Ave. and Queen St. W. from the city in 1997 for $20 million. They now operate the complex under the name of Bnai Fishel Corp. Bnai Fishel, translated from Hebrew and Yiddish, means "children of Phil."

Phil Wynn purchased the property in 1968 for $8.6 million and ran the buildings until 1978, when he sold the complex. However, Wynn retained a $2.3 million second mortgage and a $13 million third mortgage on the property, which had a total mortgage of $24 million.

For years, the two high rises were rundown and frequented by drug dealers, prostitutes and gangs. In 1994, then-landlords Zaidan Realty Corp. abandoned the site, leaving the city short $5.7 million in back taxes and with more than 600 outstanding work orders against the buildings.

In June, 1995, the city asked court-appointed receiver The Regional Group Inc. to prepare the property for sale.

Tenants, in a move spearheaded by Thaker, attempted to purchase the two buildings in hopes of turning them into a co-operative. However, their bid of $12 million, financed by mortgage guarantees from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., fell far short of the Wynns' $20 million offer.

Paul Wynn says that over the past two years Bnai Fishel Corp. has invested $7 million in renovations to the two buildings.

It spent $3 million overhauling the five-level parking garage, which can hold 900 vehicles.

Another $300,000 has been spent on a new heating system, and the remainder of the money has gone to other repairs - new carpeting, interior and exterior painting, repaving the driveway and repairing the roofs of both buildings.

Those renovations comply with the conditions imposed on them by the city, which made it mandatory for the Wynns to take care of all 600 work orders before they could increase the rent.

But Thaker and other tenants say the renovations amount to cosmetic repairs and don't address serious problems such as broken elevators, leaky water pipes and a lack of hot water.

"All they did was paint the balconies," Thaker says.

Joe Luzi, acting assistant manager with the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards Division, which is responsible for enforcing property standards across Toronto, confirms that the Wynn brothers are close to meeting the conditions imposed on them.

But Luzi says the property still has seven active files against it, which could be outstanding work orders, or tenant complaints. He won't elaborate on the files, other than to say two of them deal with apartments, while five have to do with common areas in the buildings.

"They are very close to complying," Luzi says.

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

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