Overcrowded condo units

The Four Riders of the Condo Apocalypse
(Low-income owners, overcrowding, corruption & neglected maintenance)

There are large numbers of people who need cheap rent.

Students, singles, new immigrants, refugees, people who work for minimum wage, seniors, welfare recipients all need somewhere  to live.
These people use to live in tenement buildings, cheap rooming houses, in small apartments over strip malls and in people's basements. In increasing numbers, they are now living in condo units.

Cheap units
In Toronto, units in some condos can be bought for as little as $45,000 to $70,000. If an investor has a contact with the banks or some real estate agents, units on power of sale can be bought even cheaper.

The two-bedroom units are converted into three or even four-bedroom units and rented out as individual rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchen.

The newer units may have a solarium that can be converted into another bedroom while some stacked townhouse units contain a dozen bedrooms. Some balconies have been converted into bedrooms.

At $400-$600 a month per room, there is a decent cash flow. In some units, in-suite storage rooms have been converted into an extra tiny windowless bedroom that rents for an additional $200-$250 a month.

This problem is not limited to older inexpensive condos. Slumlords will also buy more expensive condo units that are close to colleges and universities or are close to a subway line so they can rent to students.

An old problem
This is an old problem as in 1977, the Kealey Commission mentions a two-bedroom condo that was home to 27 people.

In the early 1990's, when recent refugees were placed in the three apartment buildings comprising YCC #42, the owners found that their condo was badly overcrowded with an estimated 4,500 refugees living in a third of YCC #42s 897 apartments. The three buildings, which were designed to hold 5,000, grew to 9,000 residents.

Twenty-five years later, turning living rooms into extra bedrooms has become common in some condos.

These two listings, in the same condo tower and by the same agent shows how open the practice has become.

A Mississauga condo that has turned the balcony into a bedroom

At one Mississauga condo, the owners received permission from the board to enclose their balconies. It did not take long for some of these owners to start renting out these additional "bedrooms" to roomers.

Stacked townhouses
A stacked townhouse complex in Mississauga, that is close to the University of Toronto campus, has four-bedroom units that have been converted into eight and even more bedrooms. Here too, many of the enclosed baloneys are being used as extra bedrooms. The landlords have become slumlords and all the other owner-residents are subsidizing the slumlords' business.

At another stacked townhouse complex in Scarborough, each unit in the two and three-story units were built with a laundry room. Yet the board had a private company put in coin-operated laundries in the basement. Why? There were so many units that were sub-divided into separate apartments that a coin laundry was required. (The coin laundry company did not pay for the hot and cold water that their machines used. Yet another way the owner-residents were subsidizing the landlords.)

Downtown condos
Overcrowding is not limited to older condos in the suburbs. A new condo in Liberty Village, has six out-of-town construction workers sharing a bachelor unit. There are three bunk beds in the small one-room unit.

Affect on the buildings
Over-crowded units wreak property values. Over-loading the units increase utility, maintenance and security costs and lowers the life expectancy of the common elements. There are huge increases in waste removal costs.

These buildings have over-loaded elevators with long waits during rush hours and more frequent breakdowns. It is very difficult to prevent individuals from moving in and out with their suitcases, computers and other personal belongings by day or night.

Parking becomes a huge problem and there are increased complaints of noise, crime and vandalism.

The new norm
Unfortunately, overcrowding in some condos is becoming the norm. The supply is driven by:

the high costs of home ownership. (many townhouses are built to easily accommodate a second apartment in the basement.)

low-income owners need to subsidize their wages.

the need to pay for higher monthly fee increases and special assessments.

investors seeing a chance to make a steady income.

people needing cheap housing.

lax enforcement by the condo board and municipal building inspectors.

Who are the winners?
The slumlords are providing a service for society's poor. In a province where the government and private landlords are not providing affordable housing and university residences are expensive, the condo slumlord fills a need.

As his cash flow increases, the slumlord may buy more units—most likely at lower prices—so his income rises. In Toronto's more troubled buildings, there are slumlords that own ten to thirty units.

Who are the losers?
The owner-residents of course. Their monthly common expenses go up and their property values go down. The taxpayers will eventually be a big loser as the city will have another privately-owned slum on its hands.

The worst of these rooming houses have been built with illegal electrical
wiring and do not meet city building or fire code standards. Small in-suite storage lockers and balconies have been converted into more bedrooms. A fire could bring death.

What can be done?
A board must act firmly as soon as they become aware of an overcrowded unit or the condo corporation may end up with large number of overcrowded units.

Once overcrowding becomes the norm, the board, or even a court-appointed administrator, cannot roll it back. At best overcrowding can be controlled. At one Agincourt condo, the board ignores the living room being converted into an extra bedroom as it is the norm but will not allow the living room to be converted into two bed-sits.

The board has the power to enforce the declaration to eliminate the rooming houses and enforce single family occupancy but too often they do not have the will or the necessary support from the owners to do so.

top  contents  chapter  previous  next