Toronto Income Property Newsletter – February 2009

The Toronto income property market continues to be in a holding pattern. For duplexes and triplexes, the inventory is very spotty at the moment. There are a few properties on the market that are quite nice, but they still reflect 2006 prices. Then there are others that require a lot of work, which many folks are reticent to do in this economy. The average prices for these properties are not falling as much as single-family homes, at least not yet. I’m out there all the time so I’ll let you know in this space each month where prices seem to be going.

A veteran city councillor is looking to suspend the controversial Land Transfer Tax in a bid to stimulate Toronto’s local economy. Doug Holyday’s efforts could be in vain because Toronto Mayor David Miller doesn’t support the idea. The tax raises too much revenue for the city that council would have to find elsewhere if the tax were scrapped, or even suspended. Holyday told the Toronto Sun he is writing a letter to Miller and the city’s budget chief Shelley Carroll asking them to at least consider a three- to six-month moratorium on the tax to “get the housing market moving.”

“In the three or four months prior to the tax coming into effect (last February), there was a huge movement on the real estate market to avoid the tax,” he said. “Right now, there are a lot of homes on the market but they aren’t moving. I think a stimulus like this could work.” Suspending the tax, which adds about $4,000 to the cost of an average home in Toronto, is something council can do to help the flagging economy, Holyday said.

“It’s something that we can do without any provincial or federal approval. We can do it on our own to help ourselves,” he said. The Toronto Real Estate Board said yesterday any move to suspend the tax is a “step in the right direction” if it leads to doing away with it permanently.

By their estimates, every house and condo sale transaction that doesn’t take place costs the city $33,000 in spin-off economic activity in furniture and appliance sales and home renovations among other things. They estimate 5,000 sales did not happen in 2008 because of the tax.

“That equates to $200 million in Toronto’s economy,” said Von Palmer of the Toronto Real Estate Board. “We’re pleased to see a councillor recognizing that the land transfer tax is hurting the economy.”

A December 2008 study by the C.D. Howe Institute found house sales in Toronto dropped by 16% because of the tax, and that it caused housing prices to fall 1.5%.

One of the most common things that we see on listings for income properties is the claim that Vendor does not warrant retrofit status. We often explain to our clients that over 90% of the available properties that have units have not been fire retrofitted. Many lenders do prefer that multi-residential buildings meet retrofit standards; however, this is NOT a requirement to get financing on these types of properties. We are able to finance non-retrofitted properties every day.

While all income properties may not be retrofitted they still do have to confirm to the fire code. The Ontario Fire Code (O.Reg. 388/97) is a regulation made under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act as a companion document to the Ontario Building Code. The Ontario Building Code is the document that provides for safety in new buildings. The Fire Code provides for the safety of occupants in existing buildings and the retrofitting of certain occupancies. The Fire Code is enforced by the local Fire Department, being the authority having jurisdiction. Fire Code Retrofit is the upgrading of certain buildings including residential buildings containing two or more dwelling units to a reasonable level of life safety. These are buildings that may have been built prior to 1975 when the Province of Ontario adopted the Ontario Building Code as we know it to-day or buildings that have had construction or renovations done without the benefit of permits. Prior to this date construction was done under the governance of the National Building Code, if adopted by municipalities or by local by-laws. In the 1980’s and 1990’s The Fire Code was revised to introduce Retrofit Legislation. This was designed to bring existing buildings up to a reasonable level of life safety. This will not provide a building with today’s standards but a level of life safety that will be reasonable. It is important to ensure your building complies with this legislation for the safety of residents and to protect you as a building owner from prosecution and other liabilities. The Fire Code clearly states that the Owner is responsible for complying with the requirements of the Code. Some fire departments heavy handed “you are guilty, prove your innocence” approach for enforcement of the Retrofit provisions, appears to be contrary to Canadian traditions and legal practices. The fire departments of Ontario employ excellent fire fighters, fire safety promoters and fire prevention educators. However, some very rigid enforcement policies that are driven by liability concerns continue to cause anguish among apartment building and two dwelling unit-building owners. The goal should be improved fire safety, not creating paperwork and a bureaucratic nightmare.

Today Fire Departments increasingly tend to not have the resources or manpower to carry out the education of the property owner, and consequently are finding themselves in a position where they feel justified and compelled to prosecute when non-complying situations are discovered. The property owner or prospective purchaser has very little recourse but to accept this heavy handed course of action. The term “Retrofit Status not Warranted” means just that. The building probably doesn’t comply, and the purchaser should understand that they assume all liability on the day they take possession, including the above noted penalties. Complaint to the Fire Department today come from neighbors or disgruntled tenants and when they get involved the matter will often end up in court. Today we are hearing of a Fire Code Retrofit Task Force being formed in the Toronto Fire Department. The purpose of this is to try and catch up with all the non-compliant properties.


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