For $35, nearly anyone can copy an electronic key fob and get access to dozens of Toronto condo towers, a CBC Toronto investigation has revealed.
CBC Toronto used hidden cameras to show how easy it is to do.
Toronto businessman George Laczko is the director of FobCopy, a walk-in and mail-in business near Bloor and Sherbourne streets that copies different types of fobs — small electronic key tags that give people access to condo towers and their common areas like lobbies, gyms, pools and even change rooms.
Laczko has been on the board of directors of at least two Toronto condominiums. He is supposed to act in the best interests of condo owners, but his business is being described as a "breach" of his duties to condo owners that could be putting thousands of residents at risk.
After all, the use and distribution of fobs are normally strictly controlled by property management companies to prevent non-residents from getting access to a building.
Business 'impacts the safety and security of residents'
Laczko has been on the board of the 59-storey L Tower at Yonge Street and The Esplanade. The building is also one of the many condo towers his company has been selling access to.
Denise Lash, a lawyer who represents condo owners at the L Tower, says that raises a number of red flags.
"That's definitely a conflict and it's definitely a breach of [his] fiduciary duty, but it goes further than that. There's a real concern here as to why this is going on and how this impacts on the safety and security of residents of the building," Lash told CBC Toronto.
She noted many condos won't even issue fobs to condo owners, unless they're actually living in the unit they own. If they don't, only the tenant will be issued a fob.
More from CBC Toronto investigation
When contacted by CBC Toronto, Laczko said he was aware of the security concerns, but "we only have about 20 customers a week. When I started, I never thought of the L Tower as a conflict."
He added that many condo owners have told him condominium management companies make it "too difficult" to copy fobs.
Copying fobs isn't illegal, but Laczko's company's website claims anyone wanting to copy a fob must show "proof" they own a condo in the building they want to copy a fob for.
However, CBC Toronto producers Mike Smee and Nicole Brockbank were both able to get duplicates of fobs they borrowed from legal condo owners without providing any identification or proof they were the actual owners or residents.
Watch the exchange
"One or two" was all the employee asked when Brockbank sought a copy of a fob for the L Tower. Smee got a copy of a fob for the Element condos at 20 Blue Jays Way. In both instances, the transactions were recorded by hidden cameras the producers wore. The fobs cost $35 each to copy. The business lists more than 55 Toronto condo towers it can duplicate fobs for.
Fob copying businesses 'the wild west'
When asked about these allegations, Laczko said "it's a new industry where I think the laws have to be hammered out. It's the wild west." He also suggested copying fobs is no different than going to a variety store to get a key copied. He said large Canadian retailers were getting set to offer similar services.
In addition to the L Tower, Laczko has been elected to the board of directors for at least one other condo tower: the Five at 5 St. Joseph St. Under Ontario's Condominium Act, a director must act honestly and in good faith and must exercise the care, diligence and skill that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances.
Residents at both towers are trying to oust Laczko and other board members after a CBC Toronto investigation uncovered evidence they have used questionable tactics to gain control of the boards and their multi-million dollar annual budgets.The group of individuals has sat on more than a dozen condo boards in Toronto and Mississauga.
Audrey Loeb, a lawyer who was hired by residents at the Five condos to help oust Laczko and others from that board, says Laczko's fob business is "a moral" breach that places thousands of condo residents at risk.
"What does cause me enormous concern is that a board member would actually be in the business of supplying fobs to people who may or may not have any [financial] interest in that building," she told CBC Toronto. "It goes totally contrary to a fiduciary duty as a board member to allow people to copy fobs outside of the process the condominium corporation has put in place."
CBC producers attempted to copy a fob for the Five condos too, but Laczko's business was closed last week. The company's website was also shut down.
Airbnb renters can make duplicates of your fob
The fob issue is also a concern for Thorben Wieditz, a researcher with Unite Here Local 75 and the Fairbnb.ca Coalition. The group is opposed to short-term rentals. Lock boxes for short-term rentals — a so-called "Airbnb tree" — can be seen outside the L Tower and many other condo buildings. Inside the boxes are fobs renters use to access their rental units in these towers.
There is nothing preventing the fobs from being copied or distributed to others once they are removed.
"It is easy for any Airbnb guest to make a quick copy that grants them access to shared space in the building long after their actual stay," Wieditz told CBC Toronto.
"Many condo residents ... already feel uneasy about the rapid increase in short-term rental use. The fact that literally anyone, no questions asked, can reproduce these fobs raises a whole new level of concern around personal safety, theft and security. We just don't know who comes and goes anymore."
John Lancaster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-205-7538.