Monday, October 31, 2011

School bans Halloween costumes

It’ll be all trick and no treat this Halloween at one Hamilton elementary school, where spooky has been replaced by kooky.

And the scary decision to scrap the annual tradition of dressing up as a superhero or monster has left students and parents of St. Therese of Liseux in a ghoulish mood.

“All of the kids are upset,” Lynda Fraser, whose twins — Skyler and Kendall — attend the school, said Sunday.

She said the issue surfaced about a month ago when the school sent home a letter explaining “Halloween, as we traditionally know it, would be cancelled this year at our elementary school.”

Students were “devastated” and one boy in her son Skyler’s Grade 6 class started a petition hoping school principal Linda Chittick would reverse her decision.

Many students and some parents signed it, Fraser said.

“But (Chittwick) isn’t listening to the kids and that’s really sad,” she added.

Just over a week ago, a second letter was sent home confirming the principal was sticking to her guns regarding her costume ban.

“A gentle reminder that for this school year at St. Therese of Lisieux, students and staff may wear black and orange all day rather than costumes,” Chittick stated. “Should you choose not to have your child wear black and orange, the school uniform is expected.”

Fraser’s kids said wearing black and orange on Halloween is “boring” and they doubt many classmates will do so.

“I’m disappointed, I was really looking forward to dressing up,” Kendall, 11, said.

She is dressing as a devil this Halloween. Skyler plans to go trick-or-treating as a hockey player.

But the siblings will have to wait until classes end to don their costumes.

In the principal’s letter, Chittick reasoned that celebrating Halloween takes away from “instructional time in the classroom” and creates “safety and security” concerns as parents will be in the school helping kids get dressed up and taking photographs without permission.

“The decision was made by all staff and supported by the Catholic school council executive,” Chittick stated.

She also encouraged students not to bring in candy treats to share with classmates. Instead they should bring “non-edible” items such as stickers and erasers.

“This is only the second year this principal has been at the school and she has already cancelled three things,” Fraser said, adding Chittick also shelved a talent show and an airband contest.

“The kids are frustrated and they’re wondering what they’ll lose next,” she said.

Fraser believes celebrating Halloween and other holidays breaks up the monotony of the school year and gives children something to look forward to.

“When school stops being fun and all about academics, then kids stop enjoying (it),” she said.

Challenging the status quo for 40 years

TORONTO - In the newspaper industry, anniversaries are just about the only occasion when we can afford the luxury of looking back at what once was.

When the Sun launched, in 1971, pundits gave it little chance to succeed.

Newspapers were failing, The Toronto Telegram having just closed down to pave the way for the Sun.

Television was gaining a stronger foothold and many wondered whether newspapers stood a chance against such a snappy new medium.

Others warned that society was changing and that the days of mass media were over, soon to give way to niche media that would cater to an ever-widening array of tastes and lifestyles.

Well, all of this happened, in one form or another, but the Sun is still here.

The difference is that, 40 years later, we don’t just worry about television or the Internet, we are on television and on the Internet, as well as on smartphones, tablets and we will be on whatever other device the future brings our way.

Today, for example, the Toronto Sun has an e-edition.

Who could have foreseen, 40 years ago, that you would one day be able to read the Sun in its printed layout in the Tokyo metro at the exact same time as someone riding the bus to work in Toronto?

RSS feeds, social networks, blogs and other such tools are also contributing to making the newspaper industry at the same time one of Canada’s oldest and youngest industries.

Fortunately, seizing opportunities has always been at the heart of Sun Media’s vision.

It just so happens that opportunities now go well beyond the printed page.

One such opportunity has been the launch of Sun News Network.

We looked at the sedate Canadian market for television news and saw an opportunity to shake it up in just the same way that the Sun had upended the newspaper market in Toronto.

When the Toronto Sun launched in 1971, it created its own style: Populist, irreverent, sometimes provocative but always close to its readers.

This innovative style now pervades everything that bears the Sun name, including Sun News.

On the occasion of this important milestone, let us celebrate the Toronto Sun, its staff and its unbeatable journalistic team for all the hard work they put into making the Sun brand synonymous with challenging the status quo and watching out for the interests of ordinary citizens.

I also wish to thank all the readers who have put their trust in us for 40 years.

I know we haven’t let you down.

Peladeau is president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., Quebecor Media Inc.,

Sun Media Corporation

Happy birthday to the Sun

TORONTO - The Little Paper That Grew is now middle-aged.

The Toronto Sun is 40 years old Tuesday.

“It has been 40 great years. Our readers are special and they keep us engaged and honest,” Sun publisher Mike Power said.

"We have to be grateful to the people who support us. We have great relations with our advertisers, but what makes the Sun special is the staff. Our employees do a great job and they care about the paper and online," he said.

"It is a success story built on years of hard work. We should celebrate our 40th. We are well-positioned but the best is yet to come.”

The Toronto Sun rose out of the ashes of the Toronto Telegram Nov. 1, 1971, and there was no publishing gap between the two papers.

The Sun — which is owned by Sun Media and is a subsidiary of Quebecor — was modelled after British tabloid news papers.

The paper’s first editor, legendary Canadian journalist Peter Worthington, is still a Sun columnist.

“I have been here throughout and it is an important paper. When we came along, some people thought three papers in the city was one too many. Now we have four papers and all of them are different,” Worthington said.

“If you only want hard news get one of the other papers. If you want opinions, buy the Sun. The Sun presents a point of view that other papers don’t have,” Worthington said.

“The good old days are right now.”

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pushing for an NFL team in T.O.

Canadians Chris and Janet McGowan became hooked on NFL football while living south of the border 15 years ago.

So much so, the husband and wife — both originally from Toronto — were the first to sign a petition circulated on Sunday to bring a National Football League team to the city.

The petition, drawn up by members of a grassroots group pushing for a team in Toronto, was circulated around the Rogers Centre in the early afternoon on Sunday — in the hours before the start of a much anticipated tilt between the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins.

Sunday’s game marked the fourth year that the Bills have played in Toronto.

“It’s more like a day out, coming to an NFL game,” said Janet McGowan, who — along with Chris — signed the petition in a Front St. W bar before attending the game. “We’ve been to CFL games, but it’s just not the same ... We watch (the NFL) every weekend on TV — it’s a rule.”

The couple, who live in Brampton, head to the United States at least once a year to take in an NFL match.

“This is not a new movement ... People want a team here,” said Matteo Codispoti, founder of NFL In Toronto.com and organizer of Sunday’s pre-game signature drive.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Single-issue sob story: Real truth emerges over couple getting boot from Tim Hortons

Another story from the most important community in the history of the world.
Gay people, of course.
In Blenheim, Ont., a typical small Canadian town, a lesbian couple, Riley Duckworth and Patricia Pattenden, were reportedly ordered to leave a Tim Hortons because there were complaints they were acting in a way that was offensive to the families who were present.
If they did not do so, they were apparently told, the cops would be called.
The media went into direct action, there was a Facebook site established and calls to boycott the Tim Hortons.
The news coverage of this was, frankly, sickening.
It was the lead item on Global News, and covered all over television and radio.
Forget people being raped, shot and killed in Syria and Libya, forget Turkish earthquakes, even forget good, ordinary people in Canada losing their homes and jobs.
No, here was evidence of homophobia, and homophobia is big business.
The women involved started complaining to all sorts of people and groups that they were victims, and nobody was prepared to stop, pause, and wonder if all this was true.
The story then got even worse.
The two women claimed that the man who had initially complained about them was one of those vile Christian pastors, that they were merely holding hands and had one little, gentle, innocent kiss on the cheek, and that a Christian youth team then came and prayed for their souls — presumably damned — after they were told to leave.
I can see a CBC drama series coming!
But just hold on one bigoted, intolerant, gay pride moment.
Hours after the media frenzy, a very different story emerged.
One of the leaders of the local gay community, Ty Williams, announced that he knew the minister in question, Eric Revie, and that he and his church were gay-friendly.
Revie himself then explained that he had no problem with gay people showing public affection, but alleged that this couple were aggressively French kissing, straddling each other, and putting their hands down each other’s pants.
As the man’s small children, and other small children, were present, this seemed extremely inappropriate behaviour.
As for the prayer group coming to ask God to forgive the poor Sappho sisters, it turned out that nothing of the sort had happened.
The group was composed of locals who were having a coffee, chatting together about what had just happened.
In other words, the innocent and wronged parties were the Tim Hortons workers and the man who complained.
But the lesbian couple have already asked to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, petitions have been formed, and activists all over North America are outraged.
But guess what?
A lot of us, the vast majority, are also complaining, and are becoming sick and tired of single-issue obsessive people with too much time on their hands moaning on about their contrived complaints.
Move on, grow up, shut up and bring me a Tims — no, not double double, just, well, just straight.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Average Toronto house price jumps to $463,480

The fall weather has yet to cool house sales with sales of newly listed homes up 2.7 per cent in September over August and 11 per cent from a year earlier.

A total of 361,749 houses were bought and sold via the MLS listings system between January and September, 1.2 per cent more than over the same period last year, according to statistics released Monday by the Canadian Real Estate Association.

“The Canadian housing market remains a bright spot against a backdrop of mixed headline news about the global economy,” said CREA president Gary Morse in a statement.

Toronto was one of a few cities that continue to lead the way. Seasonally adjusted house prices averaged $463,480 from January to September, up 7.6 per cent over the same period last year, the statistics show.

New listings have been edging up in Toronto where a shortage of inventory earlier in the year, coupled with higher than usual demand, led to bidding wars that pushed house prices to higher than normal levels in some Toronto neighbourhoods.

Controversial Toronto reality show Lake Shore scrapped

Lake Shore, Canada’s reality TV answer to MTV’s Jersey Shore, appeared with a bang.

A year ago, an online teaser for the show, featuring eight combative cast members labelled by ethnic background, drew massive buzz — along with massive controversy from critics, who called the concept “racist.”

This month, the project died with a whimper. “I am sorry to say this, but it's over,” reads an email from producer Maryam Rahimi, sent to the show’s cast on Oct. 2. Networks declined to pick the show up, she writes.

Cast members, back at their day jobs, have mixed feelings about their short-lived ride as reality TV celebrities-in-waiting.

“What do I say to people now?” asks Salem Moussallam — billed on Lake Shore as “The Lebanese” — who runs a designer consignment shop on Queen St. W. and says he auditioned to generate publicity for his business. “It’s been really embarrassing.”

Others shrug it off. “I partied so much thinking that this was going to happen,” says Joey Violin (“The Italian”). “It’s probably better for me that it’s not happening — better for my health,” he says, adding he also spent too much money thinking that clubbing would generate publicity for the show.

Rahimi’s email says producers pitched the show to three networks and “had a good connection” with Rogers. The network did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.

But an executive shakeup at the media giant brought in new people who hadn’t heard of the show, Rahimi’s email claims. “We became victims of circumstances. It was no one’ fault, this is just the way business is,” she writes.

Rahimi didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Violin thinks the show was “too controversial for Canada.” Lake Shore would have sequestered cast members in a house together and broadcast the resulting drama, supposedly generated by contestants’ clashing backgrounds. One contestant’s demonstration of the concept on Lake Shore’s online teaser drew widespread condemnation.

“I'm not racist. I hate everyone equally — especially Jewish people,” Sibel Atlug (“The Turk”) was filmed saying.

Atlug’s comment led critics, including Bernie Farber, then CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, to call the show “racist.” Rahimi later said that in retrospect, maybe that clip went too far.

Robyn Perza (“The Jew”) agrees. “The Jewish comment that was said — I think it might have had a lot to do with it,” she says. Networks “didn’t want to put an anti-semitic racial thing on TV,” she believes.

Perza took time off from school during the year the show was in development. “It kind of screwed me over,” she says.

Some cast members have discussed trying to keep the show alive, pitching it to networks on their own.

Moussallam says he’s working harder than ever at his store — though not without setbacks. Last weekend, he says, his shop windows were broken and the vandals scrawled “Lake Shore is a joke.”

While Violin never quit his construction job, he’s not happy to refocus on it. “It sucks that now I gotta take it real seriously again,” he says. But he says he had fun while it lasted.

“I had a lot more 15 minutes of fame than a lot of normal people would.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rocky landscape in Caledon, Peel Region

CALEDON - Every new mile of road laid in this burgeoning community north of Toronto comes with a price tag.

Not just the gravel, asphalt and labour that go into new streets, but water and sewer lines, sidewalks and stop lights, schools, police and fire stations, hospitals and hockey arenas that service new homes and businesses along those streets.

Caledon is on the precipice of explosive growth — a population boom that will see the number of residents here increase from 60,000 to more than a half million over the next 50-odd years.

A relative blink of the eye, from a municipal planner’s perspective.

But the witches brew of growth politics, billion-dollar stakes, self-interest, conflicting visions of growth and frustration over who should pay local bills for services has stimulated conflict and poisonous debate here.

Controversy surrounding development and in particular two proposed projects in the community of Bolton, which is part of Caledon, has in fact dogged the community for years.

It has led to defamation lawsuits and allegations local council ignored provincial planning rules permitting development to thwart one developer in favour of another.

There have been darker allegations of conflict of interest against Mayor Marolyn Morrison, her denials of those allegations, an OPP investigation into the mayor’s “activities” as they relate to development and her subsequent exoneration.

There were fraud and forgery charges against an individual who raised allegations against Morrison, pitched and poisonous accusations in last year’s municipal election and, most recently, a potentially costly Ontario Municipal Board hearing on the matter.

Morrison said the dispute has been personal and dirty, including allegations repeatedly dredged up during election campaigns that her friend and former campaign manager, who runs a successful garden market in Bolton, stands to make a bundle by selling land to developers of a project called Mayfield West, east of Hwy. 10.

“She has not sold her farms,” Morrison said this week. “They have no intention of selling their farm. They never had any interest in selling their farm.”

At the crux of the dispute is where Caledon builds first, and how fast. There’s provincial approval to create homes for 20,000 people.

Caledon’s council isn’t keen to support short term growth, preferring to slow things down and see growth occur between 2021 and 2031.

There are a number of new commercial properties in Bolton, too many in fact unless the town grows. A number are struggling and a number have shut down.

“We are the donut in the hole,” Kelly Darnley, executive director of the Caledon Chamber of Commerce said in a recent interview. “There is just not enough new population here to sustain the businesses that have opened here.”

A recently built complex containing a KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut was forced to close and other businesses, including Boston Pizza, Shoeless Joe’s, Canadian Tire and Home Depot reportedly have been forced to restructure or get help from their corporate head office.

“We are bleeding here,” said Darnley.

Then there’s pressure from developers, including Solmar Development Corp. which wants to build a 2,100-hectare, 6,000-home Humber Station Villages housing project in the town.

A number of different developers have property in town and all them want to build, Morrison said.

We’re not against growth,” she insists. “What we’re fighting for here is to plan the growth properly and not be developer driven.”

The Mayfield development, which sparked what Morrison describes as a “smear campaign,” was first identified in the late 1980s as a future area for growth in Caledon, she said.

“Humber Station is a farm field,” Morrison said. “It’s no different from any of the other developments that want to be considered for next areas of growth.”

The dispute between the town and Solmar will go to the OMB later this month.

And while the scandal has had tongues wagging in Caledon, it’s also fueled concern and controversy in neighbouring communities, particularly Mississauga.

Taxpayers are picking up the lion’s share of the legal bills to sort out for the OMB dispute.

Mississauga residents, like home owners in Bolton and Caledon, are partners in the Peel Region government. And because Mississauga’s population dwarfs Caledon’s, residents there are on the hook for most of the estimated $5 million cost of the OMB hearing, according to councillor Nando Iannicca.

“It’s the crime of the century,” Iannicca told the Toronto Sun in a recent interview.

“Our costs will be at least $3 million, while Caledon with its 60,000 residents is very pleased to say here’s our cheque for $250,000,” Iannicca said.

He also suggests Caledon is fighting development because residents there enjoy large lots and a small town feel.

“They are living the dream right now and they know it and they are hanging on to that dream,” Iannicca said. “With a major highway that goes there and a Go Train station mapped out, Bolton is the logical place to grow.”

The debate now switches to intensification, putting more people into denser communities with smaller lots is the antidote to “sprawl” and costs less to develop and service.

In Iannicca’s view, Caledon is suffering from “that NIMBY thing.”

“It seems everybody hates development after they have built their castle and moved into it,” he said. “My constituency has over 80,000 people. All of Caledon doesn’t have 60,000. And they think my taxpayers want to take their density? And they think my taxpayers want to pay their bills at 95 cents on the dollar? They’re mistaken.

“If Caledon wants to fight that battle, go ahead and fight it,” he said.

Caledon is not alone.

The majority of municipalities across the Greater Toronto Area, struggle with how to pay for the increasingly high cost of new development and the demand for services growth brings.

“You’ve got to tackle how you pay for it, and can you afford it,” said Pat Vanini, executive director Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

AMO asked political parties during the recent provincial election campaign to reform legislation governing development charges.

Fees paid by developers, and ultimately new home and business owners, account for 32% of actual municipal capital costs in high-growth GTA communities, and 15% in most other areas.

Among their “asks,” AMO would like to see charges increased to help pay for everything from ambulance stations to new parks, municipal buildings, transit and hospitals — which would effectively create a massive new revenue source for local governments.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, who won a minority Liberal government this month, wouldn’t commit to reviewing development charges during the campaign.

But unless that happens, AMO figures, municipalities that are already struggling to keep their fiscal heads afloat simply won’t be able to afford new development.

“We really need to go back at those (charges) and figure out what they need to be,” Vanini said.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sale of 706 TCHC homes proposed

Toronto Community Housing’s interim CEO defended the proposed sale of a whopping 706 houses on Friday, arguing that although 2,600 tenants will be forced into subsidized apartment buildings, the proceeds will improve units for many more of the agency’s residents.

“This plan is going to provide existing tenants with better quality housing … it’s going to improve the value of our housing assets. It’s going to help a larger number of citizens of Toronto,’’ interim CEO Len Koroneos said in an interview.

Toronto Community Housing Corp. staff are proposing the city sell 706 houses and other “stand-alone units” currently home to 2,638 tenants in more than 30 neighbourhoods across Toronto.

The tenants would be moved into apartment buildings as the houses are sold over time. The hundreds of millions of dollars in forecast profits are to be invested in repairing multiple-unit buildings, which are cheaper to maintain.

City council’s permission will be needed for the sale, and the provincial government would also have to agree to the sale of all but 20 of the buildings. The province has yet to approve the sale of 22 TCHC homes council voted to get rid of earlier this year.

Because the latest homes are to be sold over several years, TCHC says there’s no risk of flooding the market and devaluing properties, the report says. TCHC will be able to control when to list them.

An equivalent number of existing market units will have to be converted to rent-geared-to-income.

TCHC is considering investing proceeds in an endowment-style fund or low-risk investment portfolio that would allow the principal to remain intact, while interest earned is used to reduce the repair backlog.

The proposal, in a report going to the TCHC board Oct. 21, was swiftly condemned by Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose Toronto-Danforth ward includes many of the units.

“This is the Fords’ ‘for sale’ strategy, this is the ‘everything must go’ strategy and we’ll worry about the people affected later,” Fletcher said.

“This is the end of the mixed-income model, the Toronto model, and is sending the message that low-income people are not to live in communities with higher-income people.”

In fact, TCHC is revitalizing its Regent Park housing project and has done so at its Don Mount project based on the concept of mixed-income housing. Rather than concentrating people in subsidized apartment towers and mid-rise buildings, those areas feature condos, market rentals, and subsidized townhomes.

Similar plans are being developed for Lawrence Heights in North York and Alexandra Park downtown.

However, the TCHC report admits that one of the implications of the proposed sale of the 700 houses will be an “increase in the concentration’’ of rent-geared-to-income units.

Koroneos acknowledged this risk, but said the mixed-income strategy has to make financial sense.

The TCHC report says evicted tenants would be supported with help in finding another unit, moving costs, and costs incurred with relocating utilities and having mail forwarded.

The buildings are thought to be worth just under $400 million, with the value of individual properties ranging from $200,250 to “well over $1 million.”

Coupled with not having to pay for upkeep of the sold units, the sales could free up more than $12 million per year for repairs of other TCHC stock, the report suggests.

TCHC has a backlog of needed repairs of about $650 million. It warns that the tab will rise to $1 billion by 2015. The per-unit cost of maintaining a house is about double that of lowrise apartments.

The properties on the block include single-family homes; properties purchased years ago for “non-housing purposes” and later transferred to Cityhome, a predecessor of TCHC; and houses leased to agencies that used them as group homes.

Donna Lewis, a single mother of four whose TCHC home in Toronto’s east end may be sold, called the proposal a “bad idea,’’ adding that she did not want to move her young family into a community housing complex.

“Right now, we’re on a regular street with regular people,” she said. “I don’t want my kids to grow up in the projects.’’

City not nearly as broke as mayor suggests

by Royson James

The barrage of the bungling barbarians continues unabated.

One day they propose to destroy the waterfront. The next day they muse about cutting cultural grants, even as the world gathers for the international film festival. They suggest we close libraries, sell our zoos, offload our heritage museums.

Today, they want to sell off 706 buildings that house poor people.

The budget alarm is louder than normal this year only because the guy with the bullhorn, Mayor Rob Ford, has created a crisis to cut services in what he considers a bloated government.

Every evidence flies in the face of this characterization of wanton waste at city hall. Still, every crumb that falls triggers claims the whole bread is spoiled so let’s can the baker.

Amidst the noise and the haste, remember that the budget won’t be set till January and many a trial balloon will be floated to gauge public reaction. So, be steadfast and vigilant and vocal about the type of city you want; don’t cower and despair.

It’s discombobulating to hear that the city is expecting an extra $130 million — most of it from higher land transfer tax revenues — when just last week councillors were struggling with what services to cut in order to reach a phantom target everyone knew would change by this week. And will change again before the year ends and the new budget is set.

The budget slashers on council, the ones who consider library service on Sunday as “gravy,” they point to Greece and bankrupt American cities and say that’s Toronto’s future, if we don’t diminish our transit service, sell off public housing, reduce the public service to the lowest, groveling level imaginable.

Not so. Toronto is far from bankrupt. And you know it’s not when the mayor gets elected promising to add 100 police officers; and promptly gives them a whopping raise and considers this an achievement.

Perplexingly, the same mayor demands the same police force cut 10 per cent of its budget without reducing the number of officers — a near impossibility.

Toronto has grave challenges in funding transit. But it has funding tools rusting in its tool box, languishing there because of tax-averse political dogma.

Canada’s richest city certainly can pay for a first-world transit system — if someone shows the way. Agree on a 1 per cent sales tax dedicated for transit and we’re on our way. Our problems are many. But almost every one worth mentioning is being eroded and diminished further by the current civic leadership.

Over the past decade, civic activists fought and got Queen’s Park to recognize the city’s funding challenges. Ontario allowed Toronto to implement a vehicle registration tax and land transfer tax.

Our new mayor swiftly killed the vehicle tax and threatens to do the same with the land tax, which will net some $300 million this year. He does so as he cries about a budget gap of $774 million.

A city in fiscal trouble does not give away $64 million of vehicle registration taxes, then tell motorists to consider less frequent snow removal.

A city with an under-funded transit system does not reject a 10-cent fare hike proposal that would net $30 million and then push the system to shut down some bus routes, run the buses less often, and pack more people on the remaining ones.

Those are the reckless actions of a rich heir who doesn’t know the value of a dollar or the value of the assets he’s inherited.

It’s up to the loyal subject to reject such a direction as the machinations of a liar or those of a fool.

Your home’s sale price is private information

A few years ago, the federal Privacy Commissioner ruled a home’s sale price is personal information and cannot be advertised or disclosed without the permission of the buyer and the seller.

This is what privacy legislation is all about — protecting your personal information. The lesson is that if you do not want to see your home’s sale price advertised after closing, then don’t agree to it.

In another case decided in 2006, an insurance company arranged for photographs to be taken of an apartment unit, without the tenant’s permission. The purpose was to get examples of the state of repairs of the interior of the apartments to assist in figuring out the building’s value. However, the pictures included some of the apartment’s contents.

The Privacy Commissioner’s office found that while the purpose might have been to show the condition of the unit, it also revealed information about the tenant, including their standard of living, whether they could afford expensive media equipment, whether they loved music or art or cooking. This was found to be personal information and thus permission should have been requested.

What this means is that before a buyer or agent takes photographs of anything inside a seller’s home, even during an open house or home inspection, they should ask for permission.

In another case decided in 2008, a consumer asked their bank for a copy of the appraisal report the bank had done on their home. An appraisal contains information about other comparable property sales in your area that help the appraiser calculate the value of your property. The bank refused, claiming this was confidential commercial information and not personal information.

The Privacy Commissioner’s office decided that, while the consumer was entitled to the appraisal value of their own home, they were not entitled to the name or contact information of the appraiser, or anything related to comparable property sales, as this was the personal information of third parties.

The issue of privacy arises in the ongoing lawsuit between the Competition Bureau and the Toronto Real Estate Board, something I’ve written about in the past few months.

The Competition Commissioner wants Canadians to be able to go online and access the selling price of any home in Canada. The potential abuses are huge, starting with thieves who want to learn about potential victims and their lifestyle. Since buyers and sellers didn’t provide this permission, in my opinion, it violates privacy legislation.

It seems to me the Privacy Commissioner should be involved in these proceedings and I encourage all Canadians to complain to the Privacy Commissioner’s office in Ottawa and to federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis. To register a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner’s office, you can download a form from their website, www.priv.gc.ca, sign it and then send it in. You can email Paradis’ office at minister.industry@icigc.ca.

Friday, October 14, 2011

City wants to license movers

Toronto city hall took a step towards licensing movers Thursday in a bid to stem a fraud problem in the industry.

Councillors on the city’s licensing and standards committee voted unanimously Thursday to ask the province for the power to licence and regulate household movers within the city.

Toronto Police officers who cracked open a major fraud involving movers last year urged councillors on the committee to push for the change.

Det. Kevin Hooper said the city should have been licensing movers 10 years ago.

“I’m going to say this happens at least five times a week (in Toronto),” Hooper told reporters after the vote.

That estimate doesn’t include unreported cases where the extortion happens but the victims don’t contact police, he added.

Hooper argued there is a “massive need” to licence movers, particularly those companies that aren’t members of any association of movers.

“If these movers are not licensed you are taking your chances,” he said. “I would highly encourage every person that is going to move to at least contact the Canadian Association of Movers.”

The debate saw councillors on both sides of the political spectrum in agreement.

Left-leaning Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said everyone has either experienced this or knows someone who has been “plain and simple ripped off by bandits who show up in a van and cheat people.

“It’s a very frustrating fraud, it’s a very frustrating crime,” De Baermaeker said.

Right-leaning Councillor Frances Nunziata agreed.

“It’s crazy what they’re doing,” Nunziata said. “I do believe we need to regulate.”

City council still has to approve the request to the province at its next meeting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Arrested Toronto rabbi accused of leading ‘one of the largest scams in American history’

A Toronto rabbi who fled the U.S. five years ago is accused of being the ringleader of a massive immigration fraud mill in the United States that charged as much as $30,000 per client and earned millions in illegal funds.

Rabbi Avraham David, whose real name is Earl Seth David, was arrested Tuesday while walking near his house in North York.

“It’s one of the largest scams in American history,” said Toronto police Det. Rick Mooney. “We got the warrant and confirmed he was living where he was.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it has identified at least 25,000 immigration applications submitted by David’s former Manhattan law firm, most of which have been determined to contain fraudulent information.

U.S. authorities allege David ran the multi-million dollar operation from a Manhattan law office from 1996 to early 2009.

The accused allegedly continued to operate the scheme from behind the scenes after he was suspended from practising law in the State of New York in 2004, authorities say.

David fled to Toronto in 2006 and continued to funnel money to a Canadian bank account, U.S. authorities allege.

Those funds were siphoned through a bank account in the name of a biblical treatise he had authored entitled “Code of the Heart,” authorities allege.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says David used his Manhattan law office to submit falsified immigration applications that claimed U.S. companies had sponsored the applicants for employment.

David and 11 others were charged, bringing to 27 the number of individuals who have been charged in connection with the scheme.

The scheme was “stunning in its scope and audacity,” said U.S. attorney Preet Bharara in a news release.

Among those also charged are former employees of David’s law office, who are accused of creating fake documents to support the fraudulent immigration applications; phony “sponsors” who agreed to falsely represent that they were sponsoring aliens for employment, and accountants who created fake tax returns for fictitious sponsor companies.

A U.S. Department of Labor employee is also accused of assisting in the scheme.

They face charges including mail fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each charge carries up to 20 years in prison.

David faces an additional charge with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which also carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

David, 47, was arrested Tuesday by the Toronto police fugitive squad while walking near his house.

David is a Canadian citizen, so he can’t be automatically deported.

He is being held at the Metro West Detention Centre while American authorities seek his extradition to face charges in the United States.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Firefighters not much help on medical calls

A newly released independent study done on behalf of the association that oversees paramedic services in this province has found that firefighters are useful at about 2% of all medical calls.

The study — commissioned in February by the Association of Municipal Emergency Medical Services of Ontario (AMEMSO) — reports that firefighters are trained only enough to offer “critical” time-sensitive assistance with life-and-death threat Code 4 events.

According to the study, that comprises only about 1% to 2% of EMS call volumes across the province.

The study also cites findings that tiered medical responses provided by Toronto Fire could be cut by a whopping 83% “without adverse patient impacts.”

“There’s a role for Fire in EMS but that role is limited to a small subset of immediately life-threatening calls ... typically cardiac arrest and pre-arrest,” said Norm Gale, former chief of EMS in Thunder Bay and now president of AMEMSO, which has 50 member EMS departments.

He adds that the study’s findings offer no evidence to support any move by firefighters to expand their role in responding to medical calls — on the assumption that this will save more lives.

Gale said the study found no evidence either to prove firefighters get to a medical call quicker than paramedics all the time.

“If you look at average response times, EMS and fire are remarkably similar in many municipalities,” he said.

Gale said they commissioned the study because they wanted to be part of the discussion, up to now driven by firefighters, on how to give people the care they need, delivered in an efficient manner.

Mind you, when the consultants endeavoured to contact eight municipalities to provide “apples to applies” comparisons between Fire and EMS on response times and what patient care is provided on scene, six fire chiefs refused, including Fire Chief Bill Stewart.

Hmmm. Wonder why. Could it be that the results wouldn’t exactly support his constant mewlings for more firefighters to man all those potentially out-of-service trucks that now spend 56% of their time speeding to medical calls (compared to 6.4% for actual fires) where they’re not qualified to intervene but on a very minor share of patient procedures.

(Rest assured, that is bound to get the firefighter brotherhood and sisterhood all fired up yet again, as they do anytime I dare criticize them.)

I asked Gale what firefighters can do at the scene.

He said they have been trained in advanced first aid to control bleeding and they have a defibrillator to resuscitate patients but they can’t provide “nearly the level of care a paramedic can” — adding that firefighters learn their medical skills in a week or two compared to two to three years for a paramedic.

“Sending firefighters to more medical calls does not reduce the burden on paramedics ... the fact of the matter is that firefighters are ill-equipped to respond to many of the medical problems faced by paramedics,” Gale said.

That certainly challenges many of the claims made by the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association (which should also be named the Toronto Professional P.R. Association) on their www.notgravy.ca website — put in place in September to defend their right to be immune from any cuts, never mind 10%, and to defend their important role as emergency care providers.

TPFFA president Ed Kennedy was highly defensive when asked to comment on the findings. No surprises there.

He said Sunnybrook hospital regularly reaffirms that firefighters play an “effective role” in saving lives and that firefighters “have all the necessary skills to assist patients” at medical calls.

I had to repeatedly ask Kennedy to spell out what firefighters do at a scene before he responded that they conduct CPR and defibrillation.

Then he was back to his mantra about seconds counting and that they’ve “played an integral role in saving many, many lives” in the past year.

“In their time of need people don’t care whether its an ambulance or fire truck (that responds),” Kennedy added. “They just want an emergency care provider.”

Even if they’re there just to hold the elevator door for the paramedics as they did on Bloor St. this past week, I guess.

Workers were trapped in their machines in deadly accident at TTC site

How can a drilling rig weighing thousands of kilograms collapse?

It was one of the questions labour ministry investigators were scrambling to answer Tuesday when a construction worker was crushed to death and five others injured when a rig toppled onto two smaller machines at York University.

The accident happened at 2:40 p.m. at the future site of a new TTC subway station, next to the Schulich School of Business.

Minutes after the accident, the construction scene transformed into a frenzied rescue zone as crews tried to pull two trapped workers from machinery.

The construction worker who died was in his 20s and caught in one of the smaller machines. The driver of the big rig was trapped for almost 90 minutes and was taken to Sunnybrook hospital with serious injuries, including a broken femur.

Others were treated at the site.

Toronto police and the TTC would not say how many construction workers were at the site when the drilling rig toppled.

The rig is used to bore holes in the ground for foundation piles.

The new subway station is a joint venture of Obrasc├│n Huarte Lain and FCC Construcci├│n, two Spanish companies, said TTC spokesman Brad Ross.

It is part of an extension of the Spadina line from Downsview Station north into York Region.

OHL-FCC are responsible for safety measures at the site as well as any subcontracting, Ross added. The companies bagged the $400 million project earlier this year.

In addition to the York University station, their contract involves twin tunnels and construction of the Highway 407 station, including a 600-car parking lot.

“My understanding is that they had hired subcontractors for much of the work but we don't know who or how many,” Ross said, adding that work at the university started in July. “We know they were doing excavation.”

The companies could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

University staff and students gathered around the site's perimeter for much of the afternoon as the rescue drama unfolded.

Dozens of firefighters, police officers and fellow construction workers worked furiously to retrieve the two trapped men.

Firefighters climbed atop the massive overturned rig to reach the construction workers. At one point, an emergency surgical team was called to the site in case “a procedure” was needed to release the man trapped in the large rig.

EMS commander Arthur Graham said a emergency attendant stayed with the construction worker and set up an IV drip with pain medication while others worked to remove him from the overturned machine.

No surgical procedure was needed to pull him free, Graham said.

The accident site is now under the control of the labour ministry. An inspector and an engineer are investigating, said William Lin, a spokesman.

As of late Tuesday evening, the body of the killed worker remained in the crushed cab.

Meanwhile, a group of exhausted construction workers gathered at the west end of the construction zone shortly after 4 p.m., one of them sobbing. They were too distraught to speak to anyone.

Deanna Reid, a York University student who was at the site, said it was a miracle the drilling rig didn't kill or injure more people. “I've been seeing the rig for the past few days,” she said. “It's huge.”

Ross said he didn't know if the accident changes anything for the two Spanish companies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Toronto’s iconic Flatiron is up for for sale

Toronto’s iconic Flatiron building is up for sale.

The triangular five-storey red-brick building, with a trompe l’oeil mural on the side, went on the market Tuesday, with formal bids due on Oct. 27 to Brookfield Financial Real Estate Group, which is overseeing the sale.

“It’s the ideal time,” said Eve Lewis, president and CEO of Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, noting that for the first time in almost a century, no ongoing leases mean a single owner or tenant could occupy the entire office space, close to 20,000 square feet.

Only the bar Flatiron & Firkin remains with a lease until the end of 2015.

Sitting at an unusual corner where Front, Wellington and Church Sts. meet, the building has often been photographed with Toronto’s bank towers in the background.

Lewis recently took over the helm of Woodcliffe after her husband Paul Oberman, a heritage developer, died in a small plane crash in March in Maine. He was flying with another man in a four-seater plane when they ran into an ice storm.

Lewis is also president of MarketVision, a condo marketing firm.

Oberman specialized in developing heritage properties including renovating the old North Toronto train station, which now houses the Summerhill LCBO. He painstakingly worked on the Flatiron building, also known as the Gooderham building, which dates back to 1892.

“I think it has always had an incredible appeal because of its iconic nature, because of the history of the building, because of the uniqueness of it,” Lewis said. “The market is very good for real estate in Toronto, period. But for commercial, it’s really exceptional.”

But Lewis isn’t saying what the property is worth, arguing that traditional formulas calculating square footage don’t necessarily apply, given the uniqueness of the building, especially now that it’s been renovated.

“To tell you the truth, I guess we’ll find out on the 27th what its value is,” she said, adding it’s always gone for a premium. She said commercial lease rates are comparable to the “triple A” rates of the bank towers.

“I think it’s because people can create an identity in that building that you can’t if you’re just on one of the floors of one of the bank towers,” she said, adding companies want something that’s different.

According to property records, the building sold in 1999 for $2.2 million and again in 2005, when Woodcliffe purchased it for $10.1 million.

Built for George Gooderham, then president of the Bank of Toronto and owner of Gooderham and Worts distillery, it even included an underground tunnel to the bank.

It also houses a manually operated Otis elevator that is still staffed to this day, to move passengers up and down the floors.

The original staircase wraps around the elevator, with large windows offering unique views. Many heritage buildings in Toronto were knocked down in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but though the Flatiron fell into disrepair over the years, it was also preserved and renovated, most recently by Oberman.

“Paul always wanted to preserve historic buildings. He found a way of making those buildings in itself profitable instead of ripping them down,” she said, citing an ongoing project on Market St., where four buildings are being saved, instead of a new condo building going up.

In August, architect Michael Taylor argued for Market St., on the west side of the St. Lawrence Market, to be renamed Oberman Way. An online petition was set up.

Lewis has taken the Woodcliffe job in part to continue Oberman’s legacy with the help of their six children, who range in age from 20 to 26. They are committed to finding beautiful buildings to restore.

“Life is busy. It’s challenging, but it’s also distracting, and that’s probably good,” she said. “Life is different, very different without Paul.”

Putting the Flatiron up for sale was a tough.

“Of course, it’s a difficult decision to make,” she said. “But I think it’s the right one.”

Jeweller alleges rival stole customers

If you were already having trouble wrapping your head around the many installments in the Bathurst St. cash-for-gold skirmish, here’s another lawsuit.

Jack Berkovits — owner of Omni Jewelcrafters & Java and its Bathurst St. neighbour Easy Cash for Gold — is suing Harold “the Jewellery Buyer” Gerstel for “nuisance and intentional interference with economic interest.”

A statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week claims Gerstel’s sandwich board clad employees have been aggressively poaching gold-selling customers in the Bathurst St. and Lawrence Ave. area.

The court documents allege sandwich boarders blocked access to the entrances of Berkovits’ stores, entered or banged on the window of one and told customers inside to come out. And on certain occasions, that they’ve physically grabbed customers, relocating them to Gerstel’s shop.

The lawsuit seeks $3 million for compensatory and punitive damages ($1.5 million for each location), as well as an injunction to restrain such activity in the future. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Gerstel said of the allegations: “It’s hard to believe that people would even take it in seriously it’s so ridiculous.”

Of the sandwich boarders: “Actually all my workers are instructed to be respectful and to be polite and not to bother anybody. And they’re not supposed to go near the door of the competitor,” said Gerstel.

The statement of claim alleges that from February to July of last year, Gerstel employed an individual named Warren Albert “for the specific purpose of blocking customers’ access to Easy Cash for Gold and diverting them to Harold the Jewellery Buyer instead.”

The statement of claim also alleges that Gerstel once asked a person named Clansie Hayoun whether he could ever physically hurt Berkovits or break his legs. “Mr. Gerstel did not, however, finalize payment with Mr. Hayoun and Mr. Hayoun never confronted Mr. Berkovits,” said the statement of claim.

Gerstel responded by saying Hayoun never worked for him. “It’s the opposite. He asked me to give him money to harm the Omni store . . . I told him just don’t bother me.” As for Albert, Gerstel said “There’s no credibility.”

The lawsuit is the latest development in the gold wars between the two jewellers, a bizarre tale taking place in the largely Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, and now gaining some notoriety south of the border. The New Yorker recently published a feature on the “frenzy on Bathurst St.”

Berkovits also filed a counterclaim last week, seeking an additional $1.5 million from Gerstel and Maria Konstan, the 72-year-old woman charged last August in an alleged murder-for-hire plot against Berkovits.

In June, the Crown decided it could not prove those charges and dropped them. The next month, Konstan responded by suing Berkovits, Saeed Hosseini — a mixed martial arts fighter who Berkovits said told him that he’d been hired by Konstan to kill him — as well as the Toronto Police for a total of $3.35 million.

Her lawsuit alleges Hosseini (who now appears to have disappeared, with no forwarding address on court documents) concocted a story about Konstan seeking his services as a hit man and that Berkovits encouraged him to do so to undercut Gerstel.

Konstan also claims she suffered extreme mental anguish because of the allegations.

Berkovits’ counterclaim says Konstan was instructed by Gerstel to hire Hosseini to either murder or physically harm him. “Of course it’s bologna. The police investigated and they had to drop the charges,” said Gerstel.

Konstan’s lawyer, Barry Swadron, called the allegations in the counterclaim “bogus,” saying “it doesn’t reflect in the smallest way Maria’s involvement.” He plans to file a statement of defence.

“Clearly this is very helpful to (Gerstel) in terms of more publicity for his business,” said Berkovits’ lawyer, Clayton Ruby. “And we think that it’s important to take the issue to the guy who’s truly responsible, namely Harold.”

As for his client, currently in Israel and not interested in interviews, Ruby said Berkovits just wants it all to be done.

“It’s not what he wants out of life,” said Ruby. “He has five stores. They’re all doing fine. This is not important.”

Gerstel, who said he has yet to decide on a lawyer said: “The scandal about it is huge amounts of public resources being wasted on this nonsense.” He also said he’s the one who put Bathurst St. on the map.

“You should know as a person in the media that I’m the magnet that’s bringing the people here,” he said.

What happened?

2006: Harold “the Jewellery buyer” Gerstel parts ways with Russell “the Cashman” Oliver, opening his own cash-for-gold business at the corner of Bathurst St. and Glencairn Ave. Jack Berkovits’ Omni Jewelcrafters & Java is selling jewellery (and coffee) kitty corner. The men had known each other for years, attending the same synagogue.

Starting in 2008, the recession starts to kick in and the price of gold begins to rise. Berkovits decides to go full tilt into the gold-buying business. He erects two “Cash for Gold” banners on the exterior of his shop.

Gerstel counters by dispatching sandwich board employees to the corners. As time goes on, Berkovits alleges these sandwich boarders would stand right outside his Bathurst location, from time to time blocking customers. Maria Konstan, now 72, was one of the boarders.

July 2010: Berkovits opens up Easy Cash for Gold, just down the street on Bathurst.

Also in July, Saeed Hosseini allegedly asks to meet with Berkovits. The two sit down at King David Pizza where Hosseini allegedly tells the jeweller Konstan had offered him $50,000 to kill him.

In August 2010, Konstan is charged in connection with an alleged murder-for-hire plot.

On Dec. 28, 2010, police probe a “deliberately set” fire at Gerstel’s store. He relocates down the street. Police have yet to charge anyone.

May 2011: Gerstel complains that Easy Cash for Gold is putting up “Herald” signs in their window.

In June, charges against Konstan are dropped because the Crown decided it could not prove them. The jewellers turned to a rabbinical court.

In mid July, Konstan launches her lawsuit.

Last week, Berkovits counters by launching a suit against Gerstel and a counterclaim against both Konstan and Gerstel.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why living downtown has become more attractive

When Jeff Walker purchased his home a decade ago in downtown Ottawa, environmental sustainability and transportation costs were a big reason.

“I had to sacrifice 20 per cent more space and yet pay 20 per cent more for the home, but I figured it was worth it,” said Walker, who is a vice-president and chief strategy officer at the Canadian Automobile Association. “I think it’s a calculus that many home owners do, especially since transportation in terms of time and money becomes a significant monthly overhead.”

The Toronto Board of Trade says the most pressing issue for the Toronto area is gridlock, costing the region $6 billion annually. A poll conducted for the board released last week says 61 per cent believe traffic congestion is at “crisis proportions.”

According to a Statistics Canada survey released in August, the Greater Toronto Area was once again the worst place to commute in Canada at 33 minutes.

Commute times and gas prices are two very big reasons that some buyers like Walker are avoiding the suburbs, even if they can get a bigger bang for their buck.

According to a recent U.S. based survey of agents by realty firm Coldwell Banker, the high cost of gasoline and long travel times is a major factor in influencing some home purchasing decisions.

Three quarters of agents said the a spike in gas prices influenced their clients’ decisions on where to live. Another 93 per cent said if gas prices continued to rise, more home buyers would choose to live somewhere closer to work.

“There is an implicit price that has to be paid for the length of a commute, whether it is in gas or in time,” said Phil Soper, CEO and president of Royal Lepage Real Estate Services. “The invisible hand of commerce is in the decision making process of urban verses suburban. People get a discount if they live in the suburbs and a premium when they live downtown.”

The 2004 documentary The End Of Suburbia argued that suburban sprawl is unsustainable. And that was when domestic crude was in the $37 range - where it has more than doubled today.

“America took all its post war wealth and invested it into something that has no future,” say the filmmakers.

That same year a study by University of Toronto civil engineering professor Eric Miller concluded that commuting costs and the extra expense of running a larger suburban home often eat into any mortgage savings.

What surprised Miller was that a similarly valued home in the suburbs also ended up costing more to run. That’s because you get more space for the dollar in the 905 compared with the 416.

But more space means higher utilities and maintenance.

The study didn’t include the value of time spent in the car traveling or the environmental impact of more pollution.

“I think the finding was that there is no such thing as cheap land, the further out you go, the more it will cost you,” said Miller. “And that comparison would be even more dramatic today since the cost of gas, cars and parking has gone up since then.”

The study didn’t factor in the fact that downtown areas, which are becoming increasingly more attractive to buyers, tend to increase more in value than suburban areas.

(A 2008 study by Royal LePage found that a standard detached bungalow in Toronto would have appreciated by 104 per cent over a ten year period compared to a similar bungalow in the 905 at 78 per cent.)

“As gas prices rise I think there is an implicit discount on suburban prices, because there is a greater cost to the consumer,” said Soper. “You see that in so many areas of Toronto. There are neighbourhoods that are a ten minute commute from downtown, but you are paying a lot more for a tiny plot of land because of that.”

Gina Gokaldas, 24, says she moved downtown after a year and a half living in a new Markham condominium because of the long commute.

“It just took too long to get to work,” said Gokaldas, who moved to Markham from Montreal in 2009. “I just spent way too much out of my day traveling.”

Gokaldas says she chose Markham initially because of the value.

“Everything in my price range was like a shoebox downtown, so when I saw the property in Markham I was sold,” says Gokaldas.

Gokaldas paid about $300,000 at the time for her 900 square foot apartment. Similar apartments she said were almost half the size in the downtown area.

But the commute finally got to Gokaldas. Earlier this year she sold her home. She is now renting an apartment a block away from the Eaton Centre and it takes her 20 minutes on the subway to get to work.

“It’s night and day, although I miss the space I had,” says Gokaldas, who now lives in about 500 square feet until she decides to buy again.

Still, despite the dire predictions, sales in the suburbs have been doing well, even with high gas prices. While many potential home buyers are looking for places closer to the central core because of high transportation costs, affordability in the 416 has become a serious issue.

“Gas savings are certainly an incentive, but we have a lot of clients looking at the 905, not because they don’t like the 416, it’s because they can’t afford to find a house in their price point down there,” said Dave Elfassy, an agent with Right At Home Realty. “You might save some money in transportation costs, but you’re really giving up on space. They’re figuring it will tack on another 45 minutes to go to work, but they can live in a monster home in Richmond Hill, as opposed to a semi or a condo downtown.”

So, bigger space, or a stress free commute. While the dilemma for home buyers isn’t new, the reality is that the divide has never been more dramatic in an era of rising energy costs and home prices.

“Maybe the answer is to find that job in the burbs or work from home,” laughs Elfassy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bidding wars erupt for prime rental condos

The market for rental condos is becoming almost as hot as Toronto’s resale housing market with bidding wars breaking out among tenants trying to snag prime units.

While some 21,000 units are now under construction in Toronto — 5,707 of them in the downtown core — demand for rental condominiums continues to far outstrip supply, housing experts say.

That’s driving some tenants to offer up to six months’ rent in advance, or more rent than condo-owners are asking, especially for increasingly rare two-bedroom units.

In fact, the condo rental market has become so fiercely competitive the last year in particular that would-tenants are being urged to not even look at prime downtown units without bringing along a printout of their credit rating, proof of their annual salary and a willingness to pay more rent if need be.

“It’s a form of key money,” acknowledges realtor Brad Lamb who put a new, 480 square foot studio up for rent last week and had three takers within three hours.

One 26-year-old man offered $1425 a month — $30 more than Lamb was asking — and agreed to have his Mom co-sign the lease as security.

Lamb expects to see similar offers on 12 other studio units he plans to rent out soon, all of them in the King St. W. and Stafford St. Parc Lofts and Condos building his company, Lamb Development Corp., has just built.

“It’s not just bidding for price, this means that as landlords we’re able to pick excellent quality tenants from a credit standpoint as well,” says Lamb.

The increasing competition for rental condos — especially in hip new hardwood- and granite-clad units just blocks from the downtown core — doesn’t come as any surprise to Lamb.

He’s been tracking Toronto’s rental market monthly and says two years ago there were an average of 1,300 condos for rent on MLS, the listing system preferred by many investors who don’t want the hassles of renting units themselves via Craigslist or Kijiji.

That’s now slipped to less than 500 for rent.

Bidding wars have become most common in the two-bedroom rental market which is being all but abandoned by developers in favour of one-bedroom and studios which are cheaper and easier to rent, according to market research firm Urbanation.

Real estate agent Mark Savel was involved in four condo rentals last month and three resulted in bidding wars. One couple ended up paying $2,000 for a furnished one-bedroom plus den in Liberty Village that had been listed for $1,900.

In another case, a woman offered a $25 per month premium on a one-bedroom plus den listed for $1900. But her biggest advantage was that she came to the viewing with all the right paperwork, including a list of personal references, said Savel.

Realtor Dominic Calla warns renters the competition for good condos can be just as intense as for a good house, and he knows agents who’ve backed out of the rental market altogether.

“We’re pretty used to getting into multiple offers on houses, but for a lot of us this is becoming the exact same amount of work as a sale. Having to take tenants out again to look at properties and draft all the paperwork can be extremely frustrating.”