Remodeling and Home Design
Toronto Architects & Designers

Commentary - Elderly couple’s illegal $80,000 addition likely to be demolished

The story continues. 

The claims of this couple seem unbelievable. The daughter's a lawyer, and Mr. Tseng is a retired realtor, but somehow the couple proceeded without a simple building permit, extending their house 10 meters or 30 feet too far! Just sell and move? No, the couple's mental instability prevents them from moving, as they might commit suicide. Runs in the family it seems.

This case, in an extreme way, reflects a shade in my architectural practice today. I've had a few clients  who have been ticketed as the Tsengs have, some innocently, and some deservedly.

One want's to respect and support the elderly. They may be truly frail. I'm sure we can accommodate their frailty, without breaking the building by-laws. 
 Are the zoning by-laws such a big deal? Why not just let the Tsengs get away with it?

If true, I can't believe that such frailty isn't being handled by careful arbitration, not litigation. An advocate of the elderly can expedite a solution with a more appropriate house, or added senior care. Something tells me there is a reason this has become a distorted court case, instead of a humanitarian care case.

Complex zoning by-laws lurk behind the purchase of property for some buyers. Lawyers, real estate agents and home inspectors don't do the due diligence when it comes to building permits, relying on their title insurance to protect them. Partially this can be said to be due to our system of professional education and the separation of disciplines. I would hope someday this could improve.

Even in a renovation after purchase, some less careful owners feel that they can game the system by avoiding site plan control, conservation, ravine protection and the careful due diligence of the building permit system. In flirting with a renovation, they wake up the sleeping giant of their local government. Then too late, they can become tagged by our system as a problem case, with possible double permit fees, and extra inspections. This can work out well, as they may need the extra advice, and the fees are not high.

For some, the shock of the land owners responsibilities for guarding public safety, aesthetics, the environment, and concepts of "density control" are beyond comprehension. Explanation can only partially help if there s a basic lack of trust. The zoning and building code bylaws are not exotic. Compared to more highly controlled cities in north america and europe, they are rather normalized. 

Why do we need to control residential renovation in Toronto? To answer we need to look at the advantages of government intervention in general. From the EKOS research here is a quote on the need for government control for the continued success of the country: 

"All Western economies haven’t suffered the same pain [lack of cohesion, financial failure], some of them are moving forward — and the most notable are places that continue to have an active state, industrial policy, national planning. I’m thinking of Denmark, Norway, even Germany. These guys are doing better." Frank Graves,  The Star, Saturday, December 7, 2013.

Countries who plan and execute well with full participation of the population survive and prosper. Libertarian minimal government slogans are a cruel hoax, as only the wealthiest benefit from the lack of government control. Are you in the 1%? 

Still cries of government exploitation and a heavy handed approach come to those ticketed by the city for bylaw infractions, such as poking out way too far into the backyard, as the Tsengs did.

Notwithstanding the benifits of government control on construction, putting the load of paying for government control on homeowners is seen as unfair. Yes it is a user pay system, but the middle class homeowner is becoming progressively poorer due to the agenda. New canadians come to Canada for a better life, not to finance our lofty ambitions for "world class" dominance.
The cost of development is benchmarked to the large scale plans for citywide development fostered by those who benefit most from urban growth, large corporate and government capital. These plans are sold back to us by our elected officials as necessary changes. How necessary are they? How necessary is a pro-growth agenda? Is more simply better? Jet planes, casinos, subways, subways?

Having Toronto as an advanced world class city is a lofty claim, but lacks real backing by our federal government. In New York cities long and expensive evolution as a world class city I’d rather not live in, their federal government came to the rescue many times. You could not expect New York City home owners in Brooklyn to finance the evolution of the world's financial capital, would you? 

Homeowners shouldn't be paying for escalating regulation and aggressive city-state building through fees and property taxes. Our federal government should either financially assist with its own "Toronto Finance Act" , or start decentering our growth from Ontario to other provinces with better reserve funds, like Saskatchewan or Alberta. They have great cities too.

  ericksong@ericksong.com © Gary Erickson 2016