Tenants fighting to save 140-year-old home being demolished 'piecemeal'
15 Glen Morris St., the oldest home in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood and its tenants hope to save it
A tiny little gingerbread house, snuggled amongst multi-storey concrete buildings stands out — even if you didn't know the home at 15 Glen Morris St. was more than 140 years old.
But you may not be able to see it for much longer.
The tenants living in the South Annex home say they've received eviction notices Friday, which said the building was slated for demolition and they must get out by the end of May.
Despite its age and unique look, the house does not have heritage status — which means it isn't protected from renovations and doesn't need to go through city council approval for major changes.
Tenant Adam Wynne has been working towards getting the home a heritage designation since the ownership change and Toronto-East York community council recently approved a heritage assessment for the property.
The amount of time that will take depends on the city's workload and how at-risk the property is, according to Mary MacDonald, senior manager of Heritage Preservation Services for City Planning.
But Wynne's fight took a hit this week, when demolition crews removed the gingerbread trim around the roof.
"It's far too coincidental that four days after a heritage review was approved, suddenly all the heritage elements are demolished," the University of Toronto student said.
Those changes won't preclude the assessment, says MacDonald — but there's nothing in the law that can stop alterations to the building, as long as they are done legally and lawfully.
Wynne, 22, says as a result of the work, animals are living inside the walls and attic of the house. He adds that extensive roof work was done in the summer and passed city inspections on multiple occasions, with no red flags.
Earlier in January, the front pillars of the home were replaced with steel bars, says Wynne.
He adds there was no permit for the work and after the pillars were replaced the city issued an order to "cease all demolition and any reconstruction work until a building permit authorizing the work has been issued."
Consequences for working without a permit can include fines ranging between $198.59 and $27,234.64, according to the city website.
Avi Glina, Wynne's landlord and current owner of the property, did not immediately return CBC Toronto's calls.
Tenants being asked to leave
When Glina assumed the property, Wynne says he and other tenants handed over post-dated cheques for one year and were told it would be at least one to two years before any construction took place.
The new landlord's tone changed once the heritage review assessment was approved, says Wynne.
Despite his lease being valid until September 2017, he and other tenants were being pressured to leave by Feb. 1 and were offered money — but nothing in writing because Glina and the property manager said "they don't like email."
They stressed that we are students and therefore because we are students we need more money, and that we should just accept their offer and leave.- Adam Wynne , tenant at 15 Glen Morris St.
"They stressed that we are students and therefore because we are students we need more money, and that we should just accept their offer and leave," he says.
According to the Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord must pay a tenant the equivalent of three months rent — or offer the tenant another suitable rental unit if they wish to terminate the lease for the purpose of demolition.
The eviction notices give the tenants until May 31, 2017 to leave. Wynne says his notice says the owners have not gotten the necessary demolition permit, but are planning to get them.
The house was purchased under a numbered company for three times its value, according to a 2016 tax assessment that put it at $985,000.
Wynne acknowledges the street is changing, but feels preservation is very important.
Calling urban planning one of his passions — Wynne spent several days last summer at the reference library, researching the history of the neighbourhood and learning, among other things, that entire streets were wiped out to build parking lots in the U of T neighbourhood.
"I think a healthy city has a mixed use of buildings and a mixed history of buildings," he says, adding that he's not anti-development.
Respecting rights and laws
Ultimately, Wynne's fight is about the owner respecting the law and tenant rights — which to him, includes giving the city time to complete a heritage assessment.
It's something the Huron Sussex Residents Organization supports. In a letter written to Glina, the organization emphasizes the need for a demolition permit and site plan.
"Demolishing the house piecemeal will not expedite this process or prevent designation if the Heritage Preservation Services staff recommends that the building be designated," it reads.
Ideally, Wynne would like to see a full-preservation of 15 Glen Morris, but at the very least, he says there should be inclusion and preservation of the house's original historical elements.