Owners battle rental companies for condo board control
CBC News
By Simon Nakonechny
01 September 2016

A group of residents and owners took back control of their condo building Tuesday night from short-term rental companies they say had stacked the board of directors against them, and were allowing the building to be run like a hotel.

And they had a message to other condo dwellers around the city: be prepared, because your building could be next.

"Craziness, lies, deception and inappropriateness"
Unit owners in the building near Wellington West and John Street were visibly relieved as they celebrated the end of what they described as a two-year-long ordeal.

"Of course everybody's happy," said Igor Gurgs, who owns a suite in the building that he rents out to a long-term tenant. "We were applauding. People were drinking champagne."

The group says short-term rental companies, notably WhiteHall Suites and Red Maple Suites, are running short-term rental businesses in their building — in clear violation of the condo rules.

But when condo directors tried to clamp down on the practice last year, they were voted off the board and replaced by non-residents who some owners say were sympathetic to the short-term rental companies.

At the Tuesday night meeting, owners successfully removed four of the five board members, saying they had lost confidence in them.

"I am so excited, so excited," said resident Ann Drysdale.  "It's been almost two years of craziness, and lies, and deception and inappropriateness."

Loud parties and drunken excess
Drysdale said much of what she calls inappropriateness was linked to the behaviour of guests renting for short stays and treating the building like a hotel.

"I've had people enter my suite and look at me like I'm crazy," she said. "They got the wrong door. She told CBC News she heard them enter the suite across the hall, telling their children that Drysdale was in the wrong because she didn't lock her door.

Other residents complained of loud parties and drunken excess.

There were cigarette butts, there were beer bottles, vomiting.
- Atul Paul, Resident

"There was a lot of rubbish that was thrown in the patio, there were cigarette butts, there were beer bottles, vomiting," said Atul Paul, an owner and resident.

 "I had to clean my balcony siding a couple of times over the last few months because someone threw up over the top."

Companies didn't own suites they rented online
Neither WhiteHall nor Red Maple own suites in the building.  Instead, they lease the units from their owners then turn around and rent them on sites like Expedia.ca and Booking.com.

A quick internet search still shows units in the building for short-term rent under both companies' names.

As the meeting went on inside the condominium recreation room on Tuesday night, three German tourists sat forlornly in the lobby with their luggage; waiting to be checked in for a three-night stay.

The tourists said they had booked the suite online from WhiteHall and weren't aware short-term stays were against the building's rules.

Rental companies say they're being singled out
But WhiteHall Suites and Red Maple Suites both deny doing anything wrong.

They say short-term rentals were going on in the building before they began the practice, and that it was tolerated by prior boards, despite the written rules against it.

"We have been operating for over five years in this building and our lease agreements were provided to the building property managements," said WhiteHall Suites president Adnan Khan in a written statement to CBC News.

"Why were we not informed for the last five years that short term is prohibited?" The statement continued, "Our lease agreements clearly state that the properties will be used for short term renting."

"Our lease agreements clearly state that the properties will be used for short term renting."
—Adnan Khan, President, WhiteHall Suites

WhiteHall also denied any links to the former board members. But a Corporate Housing Providers Association of Canada web page lists a former condo board member as the main contact for WhiteHall Suites.

As for Red Maple, spokesperson Uroos Jabeen acknowledged to CBC News they did try to influence the composition of the previous board, "Yes, we asked our landlords to vote for these people," Jabeen said.

But she said the company had the best interests of the building at heart and that they were being treated "very unfairly."

'I'm sure it's happening in other buildings, as well'

Unfair or not, it appears that with a new board in place that is ready to enforce the rules, the days of short-term rentals in this building are numbered.

WhiteHall said they will vacate all their units by November 30, 2016. Red Maple said they will not renew their leases when they expire.

But residents say that won't stop short-term rental companies from finding other buildings.

Resident Michelle Paquette says it was a "big battle" to force the existing directors off the board, directors she says were friendly to short-term rental companies.

And resident Gurgs says volunteer-run condo boards are ill-equipped to fight back, even if rules against short-term rentals are already in place.

"There should be some laws preventing these crews to take over," he said.  "You can't go after them without paying tons of money and paying lawyers."

Ann Drysdale says she thinks it's a matter of building closer ties between residents.

"Get to know your neighbours and see if they're angry or mad about this as well," she said, "Because I"m sure it's happening in other buildings as well.

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