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  • Toronto shuts down short-term rentals on Dundas St. over safety fears

    Toronto fire officials have taken the rare step of closing a string of Dundas St. W. buildings after the owners repeatedly ignored orders to fix fire and building safety issues.

    At least 28 rooms inside adjoining two-storey buildings were rented on a variety of travel websites, though apparently not on Airbnb.

    The “drastic” step is the city’s latest attempt to manage the booming short-term rental market and ensure the safety of guests, Toronto Fire Services Deputy Chief Jim Jessop said.

    “In our minds, this was a necessary and reasonable step to protect the public,” Jessop said.

    To get the buildings closed, Toronto Fire Services presented evidence to the province’s Office of the Fire Marshal for permission to change the locks and remove anyone staying inside until the safety problems are fixed.

    “This is not a common step,” nor easily approved by the province’s fire marshal, Jessop said. Permission was granted Friday afternoon.

    “This step usually is in response to an owner that repeatedly has a history of non-compliance with blatant disregard of violations of the fire code, where there is no attempt to remedy the situation,” Jessop said. “This is something that we don’t take lightly.”

    Previous fire code violations for the properties are still before the courts.

    The fire department requested the closure saying that 779, 783 and 787 Dundas St. W. appear to be of “combustible construction.” The Electrical Safety Authority — a private safety regulator mandated by the province —found “several shock and fire hazards.”

    The two-storey buildings have approximately 28 individual rooms, the fire department said in documents submitted to the fire marshal. “They are being utilized by the travelling public and the occupant load varies depending on the day,” the documents said.

    Fire officials and police officers were present when the locks were changed Friday at 779, 783 and 787 Dundas St. W., west of Bathurst St. Notices were posted on the doors indicating the premises must remain closed until inspectors are satisfied the safety violations have been fixed.

    In addition to having concerns about electrical installations, inspectors identified issues with exit routes and fire safety within stairways, the documents said. As well, there is no supervisory staff trained as required for a hotel, nor is there an approved fire safety plan.

    The city’s building department, Toronto Building, has also issued an order prohibiting occupancy. Renters have been removed on three different occasions.

    “The city had commitments from the owner that the property would not be used until all appropriate permits were issued,” said Mario Angelucci, the city’s deputy chief building official. “Despite those commitments the owners again began allowing occupancy for short-term stays.”

    Angelucci said if there is continued non-compliance, “Toronto Building will undertake further enforcement action in order to safeguard the health and safety of the public and potential occupants.”

    Ownership of the properties can be traced to a numbered Ontario company that is registered to Yen Ping Leung of Richmond Hill.

    Her husband, Michael Cheng, and son Kevin Cheng are directors of a company operating two websites offering short-term rentals at the Dundas St. locations.

    Neither man responded to the Star’s request for comment. Previously Kevin Cheng told the Star they intended to comply with city orders.

    The city proposes a regulatory framework that would limit short-term rentals to a person’s primary residence. City staff will submit a final set of proposals to council this year.

    The city wants to curb short-term rentals operating as commercial operations because they remove housing stock from the rental market in Toronto. The city has an extremely low vacancy rate of 1.3 per cent.

    The city has said that the 13 per cent of Toronto Airbnb hosts who had multiple listings in 2016 would be forced to shut down if the regulations are approved.

    In the absence of regulations, short-term rentals have been operating in a grey area, offering multiple listings in properties taxed at a residential rate, not the much higher commercial property tax rate.

    The city’s proposed regulations will also require hosts to comply with municipal bylaws, meet Ontario building and fire code regulations, and share safety and emergency information with guests.

    City council will consider a regulation package, including a to-be-determined short-term-rental tax, at its December meeting.

  • NAFTA countries agree to pursue ?rapid pace? for renegotiations

    WASHINGTON—Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are pledging to keep a “rapid pace” for the renegotiation of NAFTA, agreeing in a joint statement to keep exchanging proposals and comments on the content of a new deal ahead of the next round of talks in Mexico.

    The communiqué was endorsed by the three NAFTA partners at the conclusion of the first round of negotiations on Sunday, in which representatives from each country gave “detailed conceptual presentations” and discussed more than two dozen topics over five days, the statement said.

    “The scope and volume of proposals during the first round of the negotiation reflects a commitment from all three countries to an ambitious outcome and reaffirms the importance of updating the rules governing the world’s largest free trade area,” the statement said.

    Negotiators will return to their respective countries for consultations, having continued to engage with labour, private sector stakeholders and other levels of government during the talks, the statement said.

    They plan to reconvene in Mexico to resume negotiations from Sept. 1 to 5, and hold a third round of discussions in Canada later in the month. The renegotiations will then return to the U.S. in October, with six more rounds of talks being planned before the end of the year, the statement said.

    “While a great deal of effort and negotiation will be required in the coming months, Canada, Mexico and the United States are committed to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation process that will upgrade our agreement and establish 21st century standards to the benefit of our citizens,” the statement said.

    The U.S. and Mexico have indicated that they would like negotiations to wrap up by the end of the year, with key elections in the offing for each country. A Canadian official told the Star Sunday that the government is fine with that timeline.

    All three countries have said they want to modernize NAFTA to take into account technological progress since it came into effect in 1994.

    Although negotiators from the Canadian delegation did not comment as they left the discussion venue on Sunday, there are many issues of disagreement as representatives from the three countries work to change a slew of tenets in the 23-year-old trade pact.

    A Canadian government official speaking on background told the Star Sunday that the U.S. and Canada are at loggerheads over the inclusion of climate change measures in a new NAFTA agreement, which is a stated priority of the Liberal government. The official added, however, that the Americans haven’t said anything to indicate the disagreement is irreconcilable at this point.

    “It is a very initial conversation to understand where each side is coming from,” the official said of the first round of talks, adding that there are areas of agreement on certain environment provisions as well.

    “There’s nothing that we see as insurmountable.”

    Other areas of divergence include an American push to create Buy American rules for government contracts in the U.S., while opening up these bids to U.S. companies in Canada and Mexico, and remove the state-to-state dispute resolution mechanism—which Canada strongly favours—from the agreement.

    The U.S. has also said it wants to cut its trade deficit and update the rules of origin on products like auto parts to ensure that more of their content is North American-made.

    Confirming a report from Reuters on Saturday, a source close to the talks told the Star that the U.S. has not yet made any specific demands on how it wants to update rules of origin, a policy widely considered crucial to the auto industry in North America.

    “On rules of origin, the focal point is going to be on auto,” said Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. She said if the Americans try to raise the rules of origin level too high — it is currently at 62.5 per cent for auto parts — manufacturers could lose their incentive to play by the NAFTA rules, opting instead to pay tariffs or even moving factories to other jurisdictions.

    “They’re really dancing on a knife-edge,” she said of the Americans’ position.

    Canada’s push for a greener NAFTA, meanwhile, is part of the “progressive” goals outlined last week by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. These include new chapters on gender and Indigenous peoples, as well as commitments to strengthen labour standards and environmental provisions to protect the right to address climate change.

    Trump has previously denounced the science that supports human-caused climate change, famously calling the idea a Chinese hoax on Twitter. He also pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord this year, which includes commitments from more than 190 countries to limit global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

    Tracey Ramsey, the NDP’s trade critic in Ottawa, said “it’s promising” that the Liberal government has made labour and environmental standards a priority for a new NAFTA, but added that she thinks any measures to improve them need to be enforceable.

    “It’s not enough to say, ‘We respect this,’ ” she said. “The language has to be extremely clear and explicit, and it has to be enforceable.”

    Aside from its “progressive” goals in the renegotiation, Canada has indicated that it wants to protect NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanisms, cut down on red tape and make cross-border travel easier for business professionals.

    Looking ahead to the second round of talks, Canadian officials are expected to return to Ottawa and update various stakeholders on how the negotiations are going. Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview on the weekend that he expects to get a briefing from government officials on Wednesday.

    Dawson said the typical next phase will be for negotiators to use the information gathered in the first round to reconsider certain positions and potentially revise them in pursuit of a deal.

    “It’s still very, very early days,” she added.

    Lawrence Herman, a trade negotiation expert and fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto, predicted in an email that more details of what is being negotiated will come out now that the closed-door talks in Washington have wrapped up.

    “Since Washington is the leakiest ship on the seas, these texts will rapidly find their way into the public domain. There are no secrets kept for long at either end of Pennsylvania Ave.,” he said.

    “This is going to make these negotiations exceedingly difficult for all governments to manage.”

  • Former Hells Angels? enforcer survives Sherway Gardens murder bid

    Former Hells Angels enforcer Paris Christoforou was one of the targets of a failed murder attempt at Sherway Gardens last week, the Star has learned.

    Christoforou suffered non-life threatening injuries after a gunman opened fire on him around 7:30 pm Wednesday evening outside a coffee shop at the shopping centre near The West Mall and Evans Ave.

    His longtime associate Mark Peretz was seriously injured in the shooting.

    Christoforou and Peretz made the news a dozen years ago when they were both sentenced to nine years in prison for a botched 2004 gangland murder attempt that paralyzed Louise Russo, an innocent bystander and mother-of-three, from the waist down.

    In the 2004 shooting, court heard they had been attempting to kill Sicilian mobster Michele Modica at a sandwich shop over an unpaid online gambling debt when Russo was shot by mistake.

    Police are probing whether the Sherway Gardens shootings are connected to another shooting this month when a 35-year-old man was seriously wounded while leaving a breakfast restaurant in Oakville.

    Police are investigating whether those murder attempts are connected to a dissolving business partnership involving a member of the London, Ont., Hells Angels charter.

    That relationship crumbled over allegations that the London, Ont. biker skimmed proceeds from an online gambling enterprise and invested the money in Muskoka real estate, without telling his partners.

    Sources also tell the Star this month’s two failed murder bids are the latest in a string of more than a dozen unsolved violent incidents this year in southern Ontario, centred around a struggle for drug trafficking and online gambling revenues.

    The online gambling business was once controlled by Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, who died of natural causes in December 2013.

    There are now more than a dozen violent unsolved underworld incidents this year from Woodbridge to Hamilton, including killings, explosions and arson.

    In the Oakville attack on Aug. 4, the 35-year-old man was shot around 9:30 am after he was approached by three men outside the Sunset Grill breakfast restaurant in a shopping plaza at Cornwall and Trafalgar Rds.

    A man from Montreal was arrested nearby while two other men are still being sought by police after fleeing in a black pickup truck.

    When Christoforou was sentenced for the Russo shooting, court heard that he had a criminal record that spanned more than a decade and included four previous assault convictions.

    At the time of the Russo shooting, he was bound by two prohibition orders and was on probation.

    Court heard that Christoforou was Peretz’s “partner and head of collections” at the time of the 2004 murder attempt.

Arts & Letters
Trudy
Sunday, 12 August 2007