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'We fear for our safety': Resident says short-term rentals operating in Toronto condo during COVID-1

Condo manager says building has now shutdown its key exchange program

Winston Ma was shocked when he saw people with luggage checking-in at the concierge desk of his downtown Toronto condo building after the condo board issued a short-term rental ban during the coronavirus pandemic more than two weeks ago. 

The 300 Front St. W. resident says despite the building's ban, followed by emergency regulations from the Ontario government, individual condo owners are still renting out their units.

"We fear for our safety," Ma said. 

"Owners should stop putting profit before health concerns, and before other public health measures." 

In a statement to CBC Toronto, the condo's manager said they've taken progressively stricter steps to ensure the health and safety of their residents and will take further action if necessary. 

Despite those steps, a quick search of Airbnb's website Thursday revealed a dozen listings in Ma's building — just north of the CN Tower and Rogers Centre — were still accepting short-term bookings for the Easter long weekend. 

The Ontario government amended its Emergency Order to ban all short term rentals, except for those rented "to individuals who are in need of housing during the emergency period," after provincial modelling, released April 3, showed COVID-19 could kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in Ontario over the course of the pandemic.

Last week, after that change, Ma said he was coming back for a walk when he saw a couple in his building's lobby trading a foreign passport for keys to a unit with the concierge desk. 

"That was a little alarming," he told CBC Toronto. "I thought the border was closed, and then why are they still being checked in when there was supposed to be a ban?"

On March 28, the board of directors of 300 Front St. W sent a notice to owners banning short-term rentals units from operating during the pandemic.  

Condo manager, Vijay Mehta, said that decision was the result of the physical distancing measures implemented by the government, and came after the building had already shut down many of its amenities and ramped up building cleaning. 

In terms of enforcing the building's short-term rental ban, Ma doesn't blame the concierge staff, and recognizes they can't realistically go floor to floor in the 49-storey building enforcing it. But he does think property management should still do what they can.

"They really should stop accepting keys," said Ma. "If they've already closed down our recreation centre, basically our pools, and our gyms, down on our rec floor, they can surely at least monitor what's happening in the lobby."

Mehta says the condo building shut down its key exchange program on April 8. That was the same day CBC Toronto contacted property management for this story.

Stabbing in short-term rental night before ban

Ma has lived at 300 Front for more than five years, and says the building has long been considered one of Toronto's "most notorious ghost hotels," where many units are only used for short-term rentals.

"On our floor alone there are about 13, 14 units, I would say three to four of us are still long-term residents," Ma told CBC Toronto. "The others are all short-term rentals."

The night before Ma's building issued the notice banning short-term rental units, Toronto police were called to a unit on Ma's floor because of a stabbing. Ma says he believes the unit is used for short-term rentals.

Police confirmed to CBC Toronto that the stabbing victim met an escort at the unit, and after an argument a man barged in and slashed the victim across the arm with a knife causing serious injuries. 

Ma says he saw a man and a woman leave the short-term rental unit around midnight when he was coming back from getting groceries during off-peak hours and ten minutes later police were banging on the door. 

A 25-year-old man has since been arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

While Ma told CBC Toronto he understands that some owners might be relying on the money from short-term rentals more heavily during the pandemic, he says everyone is suffering and owners need to do their part.

"God forbid any of us get infected by COVID-19 because of someone traveling that's not supposed to be traveling, and that you're renting [your unit] out to," said Ma. 

"It's not worth it."


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