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live-work loft studios

Posted by Paul York on June 25, 1998 at 13:49:32:

Wherever industry has vacated the downtown core of major cities, and there is a low vacany rate, warehouse tenants--many of them artists--live and work in loft studios. These tenancies are often considered illegal by local municipalities due to antiquated zoning by-laws. Rezoning and legalization are often a prelude to gentrification-displacement: in other words, eviction, to make way for yuppies. "The use of artists by speculators is a real-estate which plays upon the middle-class desire to be near cultural activies." (David B. Cole, American Geographcial Society, 1987). Municipal Planning, Building Inspections, By-law Enforcement and Legal department officials are often complicit in this process. They argue that the buildings are unsafe and unfit to live in, rather than forcing the landlords to upgrade to residential standards. If and when the landlords do upgrade, the tenants are not protected by rent controls because they are not considered legal. Their best strategy for survival is to keep quiet and hide their beds during inspections. The alternative is to go to court to gain legal status. This is risky and can backfire. In Toronto, several tenant associations have tried it and failed. The King-Parliament tenants are appealing the judge's decision. To their credit, the local City counscellors are supporting the tenants' bid for legality. With the phase of rent controls and other tenant protections in Ontario--including the repeal of an anti-condo conversion law--these tenants will not have much protection to look forward to even if they do win. The landlord will be able to pass on most of cost of renovations on to tenants, then sell the units out from under them. The "lifetime security of tenure" guarantee will rarely be invoked by tenants who forced to find another place during renovations. A building of artists in Montreal actually won legal status in a conversion case. Both legal and illegal buildings in Ontario are now threatened with conversion. It is becoming much as NYC was a few years ago; in Toronto we have been going through a lot of mass evictions in the last few years, as the condo market has picked up, attracting speculation. I would like to hear from anyone who wishes to share notes on struggle of live-work loft dwelling and illegal warehouse tenancies. It is a struggle over 2,000 people in Toronto are now facing. We would benefit from the experience of talking to people who have been through this.

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