Toronto condo owner says she's 'got nowhere' after months reporting banned short-term rentals

A downtown Toronto condo owner says despite reporting banned short-term rentals operating in her building for months, the bookings continue — and include self-isolating international travellers who she alleges sometimes flout Canada’s mandatory quarantine order.

'In the summer it was Terminal 3 in the front of our lobby,' says Dimitra Doufekas

Dimitra Doufekas says new guests have continued to arrive at the unit across the hall from her condo despite reports she's made about the short-term rentals breaching condo rules, Toronto bylaws and federal quarantine orders. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A downtown Toronto condo owner says despite reporting banned short-term rentals operating in her building for months, the bookings continue — and include self-isolating international travellers who she alleges sometimes flout Canada's mandatory quarantine order.

Dimitra Doufekas told CBC News the revolving door of guests who often don't wear masks in the hallways has left her feeling unsafe in her home for nearly a year. 

"I'm trying to do the right thing," said Doufekas. "But at the same time, anybody can come into our condo and no one's pre-screening them.

"It's used as a hotel instead of a place where people live."

The Element Condos at 20 Blue Jays Way, where Doufekas lives, banned all short-term rentals in April 2020 because of the pandemic.

Toronto bylaws only allow short-term rentals in a person's primary residence. Ontario's stay-at-home order bans short-term rentals except for people in need of housing. And Canada's travel quarantine orders require international travellers to self-isolate for 14 days. 

But after reporting breaches of those rules, laws, and quarantine orders through a slew of emails and phone calls — including to 311, the phone line that connects residents to the City of Toronto's programs and services — Doufekas says she's frustrated officials haven't taken action.

"I've been bounced around from everyone," she said. "I contacted [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford, I contacted [Toronto Mayor] John Tory, I contacted Councillor [Joe] Cressy, 311, Cross Bridge property management, the police non-emergency line, public health — and I've got nowhere." 

American man left unit during 14-day stay: Doufekas

Doufekas's recent concerns involved a man who arrived at the unit across the hall on Jan. 10 with luggage. Two days later, Doufekas says, she witnessed the man get a private COVID-19 test in the hallway and identify himself as an American. 

"He was going to the lobby to get food, he wasn't wearing a mask," she said. "I saw him in the hallway going to throw out his garbage a few times a day, and one day I did stop and I'm like, 'You have to wear a mask, it's common courtesy.'" 

The entrance to the Element Condos in downtown Toronto was like 'Terminal 3' at Toronto's Pearson Airport this summer with people coming and going with luggage, according to Doufekas. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Doufekas says she tried to report the American man's activity, which she believes was breaking a 14-day quarantine order, but 311 told her to report it to police, and then she says when she phoned the Toronto police non-emergency line twice in two days they told her to call 311. 

Doufekas says the American left the unit on Sunday — after 14 days in the unit — and she's since seen someone new coming in and out of the suite. 

City officials and Toronto police confirmed with CBC News that non-compliance with travel quarantine orders should be reported to police for investigation. 

Toronto police have carried out approximately 2,100 checks on quarantine orders on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and have laid 16 charges under the Quarantine Act.

Some of those Toronto police checks were based on public reports, according to spokesperson Connie Osborne.

Bylaw officer investigates July 2020 complaint this month

Doufekas says she's made between 20 to 25 complaints about short-term rentals to 311 since July 2020. 

"The only time I actually heard back from a bylaw enforcement officer was in the middle of January," said Doufekas.

Although he was calling to update her on the complaints she made in the summer, Doufekas said the bylaw officer also provided more information on the American who was staying across the hall.

The letter from The Element Condos lawyer notifying owners on April 1, 2020 that short-term rentals are banned in the building during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nicole Brockbank/CBC)

"He told me what had transpired, that the gentleman across the hall was from California," she said. 

In a statement, a City of Toronto spokesperson told CBC News that only two short-term rental complaints had been made about 20 Blue Jays Way since June 1, 2020. 

But that comes down to how the city defines a complaint. 

Calls about same issue don't count as new complaint

After CBC News asked for clarification on how complaints are counted, a city spokesperson said if someone complains about the same issue, at the same address, it isn't logged as a new complaint. Instead the city says any further information is added to "the existing service request to help Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) in their investigation." 

"One service request may span multiple calls," said spokesperson, Lyne Kyle. 

WATCH: Doufekas talks about parties, guests not wearing masks in hallways:

Toronto condo owner feels unsafe at home because of short-term rentals

2 years ago
Duration 0:34
Dimitra Doufekas describes what it's like at her condo building during the pandemic with guests coming and going despite her condo board's ban on short-term rentals during COVID-19.

After more than six months of calls to 311, Doufekas says the bylaw enforcement officer told her he was closing her complaint on Thursday. 

She says the bylaw officer told her a new owner had bought the condo across the hall so he can't issue a fine to the previous owner for running an illegal short-term rental. And he can't do anything about the American breaking a quarantine order because he has since left the unit. 

"I'm back at square one," said Doufekas.

In a statement, the city told CBC News that all of Doufekas's complaints have been investigated and "it has been determined that this property is not operating as a short-term rental."  Lyle also noted that MLS is not responsible for ensuring people quarantine. 

In terms of the COVID-19 ban on short-term rentals in her building, Doufekas has been pushing for enforcement from property management and the condo board since the ban began. 

"In the summer, it was terminal three in the front of our lobby," said Doufekas, referring to the bustling terminal at Toronto's Pearson Airport. 

Building acknowledged self-isolation breaches in July

In a July 24, 2020 notice to residents, condo management acknowledged that units in the building were being rented out to people "to self-isolate before their 'final' Canadian destination."

"Typically, most have come from the United States where the COVID cases are very high," said condo manager Anne Wilson in the notice. "We estimate over the last few months, we have had 40+ units rented for this purpose, which is concerning and puts us at a greater risk."

The notice also references "several instances where individuals have breached their mandatory self-isolation and left the unit," which "puts the building and other residents directly at risk." 

For months, Doufekas says her requests for updates on enforcement from the building went nowhere.

"I was told the standard message, 'We cannot comment on the private information of a particular suite,'" she said. "They told me that enforcement takes time — nothing happened."

Condo lawyer Fatima Vieira says property management and condo boards do have to respect the privacy of unit owners, but there are limits. (David Chang Photography)

Condo lawyer Fatima Vieira says property management and condo boards do have to respect the privacy of unit owners, but there are limits. 

"Essentially, you have to rely on the property manager and the board to take the steps necessary after the activity is reported," Vieira told CBC News.

"If it escalates to where the corporation is bringing an application in court, then that is something that can be disclosed." 

In a statement, the condo board's president told CBC News the short-term rental ban is being respected by owners, but "like all policies in some cases there are violations.

"In these instances, which are extremely small in number, the Board has taken prompt action," said Dino Tsalikis. 

Those actions include using enforcement measures available under the Condominium Act and involving the board's lawyer to ensure compliance, according to Tsalikis.

Doufekas says she found out the board's lawyer was involved with enforcement across the hall earlier this month but so far nothing has changed.

"This is my home," said Doufekas.

"I want to feel safe."


Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories.

With files from Angelina King