Garden Court – letter from Architectural Conservancy

To: Garden Court Tenants’ Association
1477 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4G 3B2

Re: Proposal by the owners of to convert Garden Court from rental housing into condominiums

25 June, 2013

Garden Court, built in 1941, is a magnificent specimen of Art Deco architecture and a provincially designated heritage building. This status will not change if Garden Court is converted from rental housing into condominiums.

According to City representatives, at the public meeting held on 20th June, 2013 regarding the future of Garden Court, the application to convert it into condominiums faces many obstacles, given the need to maintain the City’s existing stock of rental housing. There are also heritage concerns:

1) While parts of Garden Court are in need of repair (its garages, especially) there is cause to be concerned about the possible impact of the substantial alterations that will be required if Garden Court is to be converted from rental units to condominiums. These include alterations to heating and plumbing.

2) If Garden Court is transferred from a partnership to the condominium ownership of its 104 units and its common features, there might be a greater risk of piecemeal deterioration that could result in “demolition by neglect”. The current owners of Garden Court admit to problems with regard to repairs when the less wealthy members of their partnership cannot afford them. This situation could worsen, if Garden Court becomes a complex of separately-owned condominiums, unless Garden Court’s needs are secured by well-administered and possibly costly, maintenance fees.

(Because of its division into ten buildings with a large combined roof area, its elaborate landscaping and complex drainage, Garden Court seems to be more vulnerable to water-damage than a typical tower-block condominium with a relatively small roof area or a townhouse condominium, where damage to one unit may not mean damage to many.)

Ownership or part-ownership of a heritage building is a privilege that comes with obligations with regard to maintenance. These are burdens that have to be understood and afforded by the owners of Garden Court, whoever they are.

The city department responsible for built heritage, Heritage Preservation  Services, has a duty to intervene if the condition of Garden Court, a designated building, becomes threatened by lack of maintenance and serious decay. This duty provides some guarantee of care for Garden Court but only if HPS is prepared to require it when necessary, and maybe not even then, if all or some owners insist they cannot afford it.

3) The Garden Court community of renters is, in spite of constant, gradual turnover, as integral to the heritage character of Garden Court as its Art Deco architecture. However, with regard to its rent-controlled units, especially, it is unlikely that all of these owners will be able to afford to purchase their homes when they become condominiums.

A hard-nosed “solution” to this problem might be Garden Court remaining a company-owned rental property, where rent control is lifted when controlled apartments become vacant – or sooner, if rent increases above the provincial guideline are applied for and allowed. However, that would alter the character of its community considerably. If that is not acceptable to either the tenants or the owners of Garden Court, some other solution will be needed, where conservation of this complex of heritage buildings is required by law.

Representatives of the City and tenants who spoke at the meeting made a strong case for maintaining the rental status of Garden Court, while representatives of the owners made their own case for their desire to relinquish ownership of Garden Court. Integral to the owners’ case is the cost of maintenance compared with rental income; hence the owners’ wish to convert Garden Court into condominiums. They did not appear to be willing to make a case to the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal for an above guideline increase nor, it seems, have they applied for Ontario Heritage Property Tax Relief (or the Toronto Heritage Grant Program?), which would defray their maintenance costs.

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario hopes that means to overcome this impasse will be found, means that will serve best to conserve the Art Deco gem that is Garden Court and, as far as possible, its community, well into the future.

With regards and best wishes to all parties,

Richard Longley, President
Architectural Conservancy of Ontario