Saturday, August 10, 2013
Toronto Trump tower’s investor revolt bigger than thought
This fact, which is just hinted at in a recent court filing, means rookie developer Talon International has yet to collect final payments on all but about 50 of the 261 hotel-condo suites in the 65-storey luxury landmark.
It also means that Talon International is still on the hook for many of the day-to-day costs of running those units, including maintenance fees averaging well over $3,000 a month and commercial taxes on the roughly $800,000 units, which are three times the residential tax rates.
Since opening, the landmark lux hotel has been hobbled by an investor revolt and a $40-million lawsuit launched last fall by purchasers of some 25 units who claim they were victims of “an investment scheme and conspiracy.”
Talon, which is controlled by Russian steel magnate and rookie hotelier Alex Shnaider, has denied those allegations.
It has launched countersuits against investors, saying buyers were warned that real estate — and hotels — can be risky businesses.
Talon acknowledged Friday that “fewer hotel condominium units were closed than originally expected,” it but added that the hotel-condo units, which are rented out for overnight stays, “are a real estate investment of Talon and generate cash flow.”
The company noted it also has the investors’ deposit money.
It also stressed, through an email statement, that other condos in the building have closed or are up for sale. That refers to 118 more conventional residential units, although it’s unclear from Talon’s statement how many buyers of those units have taken title.
The hotel-condo units, on the other hand, are part of a rental pool, and investors had expected to get returns based on room rates of more than $500 per night and occupancy rates of at least 55 per cent, as set out in marketing materials graced by Donald Trump’s smiling face.
Instead many investors walked away because they can’t get mortgages on units that banks consider commercial rather than residential real estate or because they can’t afford the monthly maintenance fees.
“Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto continues to be adequately financed, Talon continues to remain in control of the project with the full support of its lenders and there are absolutely no concerns whatsoever with respect to the financial condition of this project in any regard,” Talon said Friday.
“Since launching in 2004, Talon has made it its mission to ensure Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto is a world-class building that will stand the test of time. Nothing has changed in that regard, and the company continues to provide the highest level of service and amenities to both residents and guests to the hotel.”
Last fall Toronto lawyer Javad Heydary launched a lawsuit, which seeks at least $40 million and the return of deposits, on behalf of some 38 investors who bought about 25 hotel-condos they expected to generate income.
Instead, the lawsuit alleges, they found themselves unwitting partners in a money-losing hotel operation, saddled with sizable costs — through their common element fees — of running a restaurant, spa and other amenities.
Lawyers for the investors have been asking Talon for months for detailed financial disclosures of those costs and others.
In an amended statement of defence filed July 26, Talon takes the view that because the plaintiffs have sought to rescind their deals they aren’t “owners” and therefore not privy to any financial details.
It’s in that document, filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, that Talon hints at the magnitude of the investor revolt. Talon notes that the hotel-suites, which were registered as a condo corporation in October, 2012, have a condo board. But it still has no owners on it because “Talon has not at this time transferred 20% of the units in the corporation” to owners.
That is “unusual” for units that were registered so many months ago, said real estate lawyer Bob Aaron, who has clients who walked away from Trump hotel-condo units.
Two major Toronto condo developers said it’s almost unheard of to have so few titles on units transferred to owners 10 months after project has registered. (The hotel was officially opened in April, 2012 by Trump and his family.)
Closing monies are critical, they said, in satisfying lenders that the project is financially sound. The proceeds are used to repay construction loans.
Even the construction process has turned out to be costlier than Talon expected, according to other legal documents filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
At the peak, there 14 outstanding construction liens against Talon, the last of which was removed in January, 2012, after Talon had paid some $200,000 in costs.
In June, one of the co-founders of the project, Val Levitan, stepped down as CEO. He’s been replaced by Neil Labatte, a highly regarded former Fairmont Hotels executive.
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