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Suburban house split up into 18 bedrooms

Edward

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http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/300147

Suburban house split up into 18 bedrooms

KEITH BEATY/TORONTO STAR
This illegal rooming house at New Forest Square was subdivided to create 18 bedrooms. The home’s owners must now return it to its original form.

Across Canada, more than 1.5 million renter households – including 600,000 in Ontario and 200,000 in Toronto – are considered to need housing help because they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

Yet, according to the Toronto-based Wellesley Institute, Ontario government spending on affordable housing has dropped by $1 billion since 2001.

In Toronto, the dire shortage of affordable housing is causing increased evictions, food bank use and illegal rooming houses.

Landlords of illegal rooming homes preying on tenants desperate for affordable housing
Feb 04, 2008 04:30 AM
DONOVAN VINCENT
CITY HALL BUREAU
Lushan Lu's home renovation project doesn't involve installing new hardwood floors, or fancy new faucets for a bathroom.

A few years ago he subdivided his large Scarborough home into an illegal rooming house, creating 18 bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

Now he's returning it to its original form.

That comes after he pleaded guilty in court this summer to city zoning bylaw infractions. He and co-owner Zhuan "May" Wang were each fined $5,000.

Tenants in the home on New Forest Square, in the Kennedy Rd. and Steeles Ave. E. area, were paying $400 a month rent.

If Lu and Wang had just one person per room in their house they would collect more than $7,000 each month.

The case marked one of two successful prosecutions by the city this past summer of illegal rooming house operators.

The other, Run Ying "Lucy" Wang, was fined $72,000 for zoning violations relating to two homes in her name on nearby Shepton Way.

The cases reveal the suburban spin on what is often seen as a downtown problem.

And city officials say there are hundreds of illegal rooming houses run by landlords exploiting people desperate for affordable housing.

Lu's property, which city officials say was being run like a hotel, was advertised on the Internet. The website offered potential tenants, mostly new immigrants to Canada, a ride from Pearson airport in a van, though Lu insists many made their own way to the house.

What's surprising is that Lu's property looks like any other suburban home. The nondescript, two-storey, red-brick house boasts a two-door garage and a large pine tree dominates the front yard.

While the Star could not gain access to the house, it is hard to imagine 18 rooms crammed into the residence.

And it's no easy matter for officials to stop landlords operating outside the law.

Toronto officials with Municipal Licensing and Standards, the fire department and city councillors in North York and Scarborough are using the fire code and property standards rules to close illegal rooming houses operating in those two communities.

However, it's a slow process.

Meanwhile, the landlords are making big bucks off the backs of desperate tenants. The operators rarely flinch when ordered to pay fines because they're making so much money, city councillors say.

"These illegal rooming houses aren't just a blight on the neighbourhoods, they're exploiting the people who live in them," North York councillor John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) says.

In downtown Toronto, the victims of illegal rooming houses are often long-time residents who are homeless or trying to escape that.

The Star recently profiled a property on Queen St. W., which earned the nickname `the Dungeon.'

Though it wasn't a rooming house, the conditions were deplorable, and city officials condemned the basement, where they found a number of men living among live and dead mice, and human feces on the floor.

But unlike those tenants, the residents in illegal suburban rooming houses are typically foreign students, or new immigrants to Canada seeking a better life.

"I think it (illegal housing) is an issue all over the place. It just manifests itself differently in different parts of the city," Filion adds.

The problem has popped up in the 905 region, too.

In June a home in Markham caught fire, killing landlord Roberto "Ali" Valdini. Before his death he'd been to court repeatedly since September 2006, answering to fire code violations.

The home, on Steeles Ave. E. near Yonge St. is in an area zoned for single-family homes, but it had been subdivided into 11 units.

Markham fire department's acting deputy chief Glenn Dick says electrical problems are suspected as the cause, though the office of the Ontario Fire Marshal is still investigating.

Illegal rooming houses are potential fire hazards because they have numerous self-contained units and more tenants using electricity to power things like computers and hot plates in their rooms. That can overload circuits, and cause a fire, Dick says.

Rooming houses are licensed and regulated in Toronto, but preamalgamation rules prohibiting them remain in force in North York and Scarborough.

Toronto's public health department licenses lodging houses in Etobicoke.

Lu, a software developer who ran unsuccessfully as a city councillor in Scarborough in the 2006 municipal election, was reticent to talk about his rooming house.

The married father of two says he bought the home around 2002 and subdivided it sometime later. He rented out rooms because his wife doesn't work.

In addition to that property he has another house a few doors down, in which he now lives with his family.

Lu says he learned the first property was illegal after consulting city documents on his own. The city got wind of this house after receiving a complaint.

City officials spoke to him several times, says Bill Blakes, a district manager for the Municipal Licensing and Standards office in Scarborough, and Lu got a warning letter in June 2004.

Licensing and standards investigators made several requests to enter the property during their probe, but were rebuffed, before the owner finally agreed.

In June 2006 investigators determined the property was a rooming house, which legally is defined as: A living accommodation being rented by more than two persons who aren't members of a single family that would normally occupy the dwelling.

Obtaining a search warrant to enter suspected rooming houses is no easy feat, says Lance Cumberbatch, director of investigations for Toronto's municipal licensing division.

"We have to persuade a justice of the peace. We might see a lot of cars or a lot of garbage being put out, but in the past that's not been enough," Cumberbatch says.

So often it's up to the owner to grant entry.
 

paraone

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I have a house two doors down from us that have done the same thing, not 18 rooms mind you but still an illegal rooming house.
I live on a tiny street filled with 2 or 3 bedroom row houses. This lady has divided each room into 3 or 4, there must be 12 people living in a house meant for 3-4 MAX!
My bigggest worry is that someone is going to set the place on fire as most of the tenants smoke, someone is going to ie in that death trap and take half the block with it!

I'm not sure who I should contact about the problem, we wrote our city councilor Paula Fletcher and got no response, any ideas?
 

ShonTron

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I called city by-law enforcement about a wrongful use of a residental unit in my building recently. If you have no proof, there's little that they can do - they need something proving that's going on before they will act.

Try getting to Fletcher again. You might also like to try the fire marshal or Public Health.
 

rpgr

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Ugh, I have the same thing in my townhouse complex. The rooms aren't subdivided but instead they are cramming families into single rooms. We can't really do anything about though...
 

paraone

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well you can see the rooms from the back of the house. There is a sliding door on the second floor balcony and you can see 2 wall forms butting against the door. My father in law was a fire chief in NorthYork till a few years ago and said that there is little the fire marshal can do for a residential unit.

it's unreal that this can happen without anyway of stopping it.
 

Jarrek

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Just before I moved out of Mississauga, there was a Rooming house in the Bloor and Tomken area that burned down to the ground because of improper electrical wiring. One of the tenants, a Polish immigrant died in the blaze. The house stood in its burned out shell for about a year before things were sorted out, and then it was rebuilt.

Not sure what it will be used as now.

If a house has a ridiculous amount of people living in it, and you suspect it to be a rooming house, I suggest giving the city a call, as the tenants probably are not aware of the legality of their situation, and the potential danger that they're in.
 

W. K. Lis

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While doing the census last year, I had seen forms that averaged 12 people in apartment units. The largest number I came across was 18, in a house.
A rooming house would normally have a single census form filled in. But, an illegal rooming house may not include all the individuals. So those numbers could be under.
 

paraone

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If a house has a ridiculous amount of people living in it, and you suspect it to be a rooming house, I suggest giving the city a call, as the tenants probably are not aware of the legality of their situation, and the potential danger that they're in.

I just got off the phone with the licensing and standards office, they said they'd send an inspector but also said that unless they can get in to see, there is little they can do without proof.

How the hell can I get proof?? they aren't about to let anyone in.
 

Urban Shocker

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The second floor of 816A College Street was roughly subdivided to create a shantytown of three additional wood frame and masonite-panelled bedrooms - in addition to the small bedroom, kitchen and washroom at the front - when we were art students. Sometimes a few others would crash in the lounge area for a month or two, though this sometimes made it difficult to throw parties. The more students we crammed in, the lower we got the rent. I think at one time we got it down to about $30/month each, though of course we're talking 1975 prices.
 

scarberiankhatru

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I used to live next to a rooming house, but it only had about 2 extra bedrooms. Every month or so there'd be different people coming in and out, a different car sitting on the driveway, etc. It was more like a "halfway house" for illegal immigrants.

These mini-favelas are not numerically common, but they can have a noticeable boost on overall population, especially when most other houses have ~2 people in them.
 

Admiral Beez

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I just got off the phone with the licensing and standards office, they said they'd send an inspector but also said that unless they can get in to see, there is little they can do without proof.

How the hell can I get proof?? they aren't about to let anyone in.
Ask the tenants to let you in. Here in Cabbagetown, I'm on good terms with a few of the tenants of the rooming houses on Sackville Street, and have been given tours of most of them. They are absolutely horrible on the inside.
 

paraone

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Ask the tenants to let you in. Here in Cabbagetown, I'm on good terms with a few of the tenants of the rooming houses on Sackville Street, and have been given tours of most of them. They are absolutely horrible on the inside.

I'm not to sure I'd like to ask some of the characters I see coming out anything, let alone a tour of the house. Most look like they are headed downtown to pan.
If this were a legit rooming house I'd have no complaints but this place is a death trap just waiting to happen.

Maybe I'll test out my new telephoto lens from the roof of the row across the street. My luck I'll get busted for peeping!
 

nekz

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"And city officials say there are hundreds of illegal rooming houses run by landlords exploiting people desperate for affordable housing."

Exploiting? So, if we get rid of these exploiting landlords, where else are these people going to live?

... not that I agree with what they're doing though. Just saying.
 

Hipster Duck

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I'm not to sure I'd like to ask some of the characters I see coming out anything, let alone a tour of the house. Most look like they are headed downtown to pan.
If this were a legit rooming house I'd have no complaints but this place is a death trap just waiting to happen.

Maybe I'll test out my new telephoto lens from the roof of the row across the street. My luck I'll get busted for peeping!

You probably should get busted for peeping. These people live at the very bottom of the social ladder and have very little privacy as it is. What could you possibly get out of this except violating other people's rights and maybe satisfying a voyeuristic Rear Window fetish?
 

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