Demolition by Neglect

Post by Ben

As mentioned previously, my brother is the Executive Director of Jefferson East Business Association.  In JEBAs most recent newsletter there was a little snippet on “demolition by neglect”, which is defined as “the destruction of a building through abandonment or lack of maintenance“.  JEBA has had great success in the past year in charging owners of neglected buildings with demolition by neglect, which “require building owners to maintain their buildings according to pre-established standards; failure to maintain can lead to fines or injunctive relief.”

Demolition by neglect is major problem in Detroit, but is not limited to cities that have borne the brunt of economic hardship.  This past summer I had the pleasure of attending a Jane’s Walk hosted by members of the St. James Town Youth Council in Toronto.  The walk itself was fascinating, especially the portions that focused on “desire paths” (more on that in a later post), but of particular interest was a bit of side information I learned from the youth running the tour.

On this quiet dead end street across from St. James Town there is series of four semi-attached homes.  As you can see on Google Streetview, they are beautiful houses with tons of character, and the street has a rich history outlined beautfiully by Heritage Toronto here.

With the exception of the end unit closest to Howard St., which has been lovingly restored by a private individual, the other properties were purchased by Excel Property Management.  Meanwhile, the city has been slowly working towards trying to grant heritage designation to the buildings.  What has ensued has been a what can be best described as a snails-paced race to determine what will happen first: heritage designation or collapse of the roofs.

In a Globe and Mail article from 2006 (posted on Urban Toronto – couldn’t find the original) there has been some suspicion that Excel Property Management has been engaging in demolition by neglect.  As the article states, a neighbour (I believe the owner of the well maintained house):

believes the lack of repairs is part of a pattern in the neighbourhood. He cites the case of 6 Howard St., just around the corner — Toronto’s most dramatic recent example of demolition by neglect, and another case Mr. Rae cited in calling for the bylaw. In February, he took pictures of the historic apartment building’s roof from a tower nearby. The images show piles of bricks arranged near one of the building’s chimneys, while a long piece of lumber is sticking out of a hole in the roof. A month later, the roof of 6 Howard collapsed; the low-income tenants in a house next door were evacuated, eventually giving up their homes. And the city stepped in to raze the damaged building in the name of public safety. The end result: a vacant lot, and a vacant house next door whose yard is visibly a haven for drug use

In the case of the Glen Road houses, similar debris have been spotted on the roofs.  If the roof collapses, the building becomes unsafe, and the city is forced to tear it down.  What goes up in its place? Take your pick: town-homes, condo, anything more profitable and cheap to maintain for the property company.

So what options are available to the city?  The heritage designation process is slow, and currently it appears to be on hold as the property company develops preservation plans.  I get the feeling, however, that they may not be committing full resources to developing such plans.  A tool that Toronto lacks is what I referenced at the outset: being able to bring a property owner up on charges of demolition by neglect.  Keep an eye out for an upcoming post looking at Detroit’s experience.

For the time being, let’s home there isn’t much heavy snow falling on Glen Road.

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