Tag Archives: multi-family residential

The History Of Toronto’s First Apartment Building

toronto first apartment

So many people live in apartments or condominiums in Toronto that it’s hard to imagine a time when renting a small portion of a larger building was a radical, even a shockingly salacious way of life.

Amazingly, before 1899, there were no purpose-built apartment buildings in the city at all, making Toronto something of an anomaly in North America.

Sure, people rented rooms or floors of sub-divided homes (The Ward, a notorious slum that used to be located near current City Hall, was densely populated much earlier), but nothing had been constructed specifically for that purpose.

The first building in Toronto purpose-built for multiple occupancy was the St. George Mansions at 1 Harbord Street, directly opposite where the looming brutalist mass of Robarts Library would later sit.

In 1905, the intersection was part of a relatively quiet and affluent neighbourhood west of the University of Toronto campus.

Dappled sunshine filtered through young trees and little Model T Fords lined the curb. It was a “a district of substantial detached villas,” according to Richard Dennis in a 1989 research paper.

Dennis discusses the St. George Mansions and the real estate market leading up to their construction in detail.

toronto first apartment

As Dennis recalls, the permit for the building’s construction, the first of its type in Toronto, was issued in 1899 to A. W. McDougald, the president of the Improved Realty Co. of Toronto Ltd. He estimated the building would cost his company about $100,000 – the equivalent of about $2 million in today’s money.

The six-storey pressed brick and Bedford stone building, roughly “C”-shaped with a partially enclosed courtyard, took about five years to complete. Many of its 34 apartments had access to balcony space, though some were decorative Juliet-style affairs with heavy stone balustrades.

In 1904, shortly after it was finished, it contained 34 apartments and was home to 99 people, most of them wealthy middle-aged couples. Three barristers, two professors, two bank managers, and a director of an insurance company appeared on the occupancy list at that time.

Toronto was slow compared to other North American cities to build its first apartment block. The living concept had already appeared in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and other nearby cities, and was established in the form of “apartment hotels” in Boston and New York City in the 1850s and 1860s.

Apartment hotels were typically marketed at single, city-dwelling businessmen. Buildings such as the New York’s Stuyvesant Flats, built in 1869, had “between six and ten rooms each” and were let for $1,200 to $1,800 per year, according to Dennis.

The buildings of this type often had a central restaurant, laundry, recreational facility, barber, and dentist—complete miniature communities for the residents that turned a handsome profit for the owners.

The living concept became less communal and exclusive in the later decades of the 1800s. Apartment buildings that were constructed around this time were private and self-contained and became accessible to middle class families.

toronto first apartment

The apartment building concept wasn’t without its detractors.

Observers fretted that apartment living was unsuitable for families, prompting one Milwaukee landlord to offer free rent for every child born or marriage proposed in his building. “It is a shortcut from the apartment house to the divorce court,” Dennis quotes the author of Housing Problems in America, written in 1917.

The St. George Mansions were targeted firmly at middle class occupants when they were finished in 1904. Economic evidence suggested middle income families were less likely to move and were more numerous than the upper class renters, making them the perfect market to tap.

Toronto’s rents spiked massively in the years the building was under construction – up to 95 per cent between 1897 and 1906 – in part due to a sudden uptick in immigration. There were more new arrivals than the number of new homes could accommodate, making apartment blocks and attractive idea for developers.

toronto first apartment

The second Toronto apartment building was completed a year after the St. George Mansions on University Avenue. The stone, brick, and steel Alexandra was a larger building: 72 suites across seven floors with panoramic views of the city from its penthouse windows.

Like the apartment hotels of New York, the property included a communal dining room and appealed to middle-class renters.

By 1907, Toronto had its first apartment building directory that included Sussex Court at 389 Huron St. and Spadina Gardens at 41-45 Spadina Road, both of which still exist.

The St. George Mansions and the Alexandra are both sadly gone. The former survived until after the Second World War when it was repurposed as Trinity Barracks, the Toronto home of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.

One contemporary account described the building as “cockroach palace,” suggesting time wasn’t kind to Toronto’s first apartment complex.

Today, U of T’s Ramsay Wright Zoological Laboratories building, built in 1965, occupies its former lot.

Source: BlogTo.com

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IN FOCUS: Investor Services The importance of property management services for investors

Any savvy investor knows that building a success property portfolio doesn’t come without its complications. From problem tenants and maintenance issues to volatile housing markets, the challenges can sometimes seem endless. As a result, utilizing the skills of an experienced property management company is crucial for investors who want their investments to run as smoothly as possible and yield the best possible return.

“A property management company takes care of a wide range of essential functions including all of the maintenance related to the property, whether it’s tapping into a network of contractors to  handle the repairs or snow clearing and grass cutting,” says Rob Kirby, President of Veranova Properties Limited. “A property management company also does all of the leg work involved with getting new tenants, including finding them, doing the background checks, and then managing them when they move in.”

Property management companies act on behalf of the landlord and shoulder the tasks that fall outside of most peoples’ comfort zone. Finding a suitable realtor, offering legal support services, and inspecting the property if it is empty are all functions that fall under the management company’s remit.

“Many investors do not realize that if you leave a property for a certain period of time and something happens, such as a flood, the insurance may not cover it because it was vacant with no one checking on it,” Kirby says. “The property management company might check the property something like every 48 hours to inspect for things like break-ins and water damage until they get a tenant, which can take a bit of time if you’ve just bought a property.”

Property management companies play an important role in helping investors safeguard and maintain the value of their properties. “In the current economic climate, and with interest rates rising, it is harder to find real estate and harder to qualify for borrowing, and that makes it even more crucial for investors to make sure they maintain their asset’s value,” Kirby says. “A good management company takes a preventative approach to maintenance, which means issues are dealt with before they become big, costly problems. It’s an approach that saves the investor both time and money.”

Source: Canadian Real Estate Wealth – Mar 20, 2018

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Thinking of becoming a landlord? Here’s what you need to know

Being a landlord isn’t without its challenges, but covering one’s bases in the following ways is bound to yield quality tenants and rents.

Every real estate professional understands the importance of location, and so should every landlord. Steve Arruda, a sales agent with Century 21 Regal Realty, has been a landlord for 18 years and advises taking one’s time performing due diligence on prospective neighbourhoods.

“You want to know where you’re investing in and what the demographics are in that neighbourhood, and whether there are universities and families there,” Arruda told CREW. “I’ve rented in depressed neighbourhoods, and it’s challenging. The price may seem really tempting, but then you attract a lot of renters who may not have the best incomes, and they could become problematic because there are issues each month with payment. Location is one of the most important things. Make sure you know where you’re investing and what the demographics in that neighbourhood are.”

If investing in a house rather than a condominium, ensure big ticket items like furnaces, wiring, roofs and windows are updated “because those are the things that are quite costly to repair,” added Arruda. “It’s good to have those larger items updated, otherwise if they fail, it’s always at an inopportune time like winter, and you’ll be left with an angry tenant.”

Beyond material concerns, Arruda says landlords invariably become arbiters in disputes between tenants, unfairly or not, and that managing personalities is a delicate art.

“When you have a house with four units, like a multiplex, it’s hard to get everybody to get along, and you’re their first line of defence,” he said. “So, managing personalities, managing expectations and being able to handle that
stress level are crucial, because for an inexperienced landlord, the first call they get because of an issue with a tenant or an issue with a clogged toilet can make their already stressful life even more stressful. Always be prepared for anything, whether issues with tenants or the property itself.”

Additionally, tenants need to be thoroughly screened, and Arruda recommends landlords run their own credit reports and confirm bank statements are real. Even calling an employer to confirm the information provided by potential tenants isn’t beyond the realm of the reasonable. As well, call their previous landlords to find out what kind of people they are.

Over 18 years, Arruda also learned that units with dishwashers, washers and dryers are not only highly sought after, they attract good-quality renters.

Renu Ashdir, a sales agent with iPro Realty Ltd., says clients for whom she seeks rental accommodations flock to buildings with amenities like gyms, but warns too many amenities—especially swimming pools—result in higher condo fees.

“If you’re a person in your 20s and 30s, fitness amenities are the most used,” she said, adding older tenants prefer the security of a concierge. “People care about the kind of neighbours they have in a building and whether or not there’s transit nearby.”

Most importantly, says Arruda, “Look after your renters and know rental laws.”

Source: Canadian Real Estate Wealth – by Neil Sharma12 Jan 2018
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