Saturday, April 23, 2016

Toronto's Real Estate Market Just Wont Stop

Home sales in Monica Dawson’s Markham neighbourhood seem to unfold almost according to script. Whenever a For Sale sign pops up, cars clog the street for showings. Then a bidding war breaks out, ending with an eye-popping sale price.

Ms. Dawson and her husband, who are in the midst of divorcing, recently crunched the numbers and decided to enter the fray.

“We were like, ‘Maybe it’s time’ – although I loved that house with every fibre of my being. It was my forever house. But circumstances happen, life happens,” said Ms. Dawson, a mother of two boys and owner of a gym franchise.

Earlier this month, the couple put their renovated four-bedroom, two-bathroom backsplit bungalow on the market for $1,188,800 – a price tag chosen to spark interest from the community’s large population of buyers with ties to China, who generally consider the number eight lucky. Five days later, they had bids from two couples and a signed contract for $1.25-million, 5 per cent over asking.

The Dawson family’s home near Highway 7 and McCowan Road is in one of the hottest real estate zones in the Greater Toronto Area, according to new data from the Teranet-National Bank House Price Index provided to The Globe and Mail. The average price in their immediate area was $801,730 at the end of December, up a whopping 14 per cent from the previous year.

The GTA’s housing market is reaching frenzied new heights, with average prices up 9 per cent at the end of March compared with one year earlier, according to the Teranet analysis. Since 2005, average prices have risen 81 per cent.

“It has been much stronger than almost anyone would have expected a year ago,” said Douglas Porter, chief economist at the Bank of Montreal. “It’s a very big story.”

Indeed, across the region, house hunters are experiencing sticker shock. In the city, it has become commonplace for properties in desirable neighbourhoods to spark bidding wars with 10 or more hopeful buyers and prices that climb $200,000 or more above asking, real estate agents say. One house in the South Annex attracted 15 bidders in February, selling for $2.1 million, $600,000 over asking.

While demand is high, supply is extremely tight, leading to a strong seller’s market. Data from the Toronto Real Estate Board show that while there was a double-digit increase in home sales in the first three months of 2016, listings were down slightly. “They’re moving in opposite directions,” said John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Realty Inc.

Where those on limited budgets once found respite in the suburbs, the Teranet data show that hot spots are scattered throughout the wider area.

Agents report that multiple offers have become the norm in parts of the 905 region.

Mr. Pasalis said many seeking a relative deal have been priced out of older, more established bedroom communities and are looking to Durham Region, where houses can be had for $500,000. “It’s still super-competitive out in the suburbs,” he said.

Demand is especially strong in Markham, north of Toronto, mostly because of an influx of Chinese buyers attracted to the existing large Asian immigrant community and extensive infrastructure that includes abundant Chinese restaurants, shops and even a mall, as well as highly rated schools, real estate agents say.

“The Chinese buyers are all buying here. This is where they want to be,” said Leslie Benczik, an agent who specializes in Markham and whose firm listed the Dawsons’s home.

Foreign buyers’ tastes are not limited to the suburbs, however. Real estate agents throughout the GTA report strong demand from potential purchasers from abroad. Their influence – which is difficult to quantify – is a key reason behind the outsized growth in the Toronto market, as well as that of Vancouver, Mr. Porter said.

“There is a much bigger force at play and I do believe it is largely the influence of foreign investment in those two markets,” he said.

For the Dawson family, Chinese buyers’ strong interest in Markham seemed to work both for and against them. Although prices are increasing, they found themselves at a disadvantage. Despite their home’s selling points – beside a conservation area, with a good elementary school down the street and a Chinese supermarket a short walk away – the property is located on an intersection and has a four in the address, two factors considered undesirable.

“I know that we actually had people just flat turn [around] because I was on an intersection. It had nothing to do with the house,” said Ms. Dawson, 42. “I think we probably could have gotten another $100,000 had I not been on an intersection, which is ironic because my backyard backs onto a conservation park protected by the government. Nothing can build there, ever.”

Complaint filed against Canada Post for east Toronto tabloid "Your Ward News" delivery

A human-rights complaint has been filed against Canada Post and the federal government for the delivery of a tabloid that critics say prints hate speech to an east Toronto neighbourhood.

The complaint was filed with the office of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on Friday by Ottawa-based lawyer Richard Warman, who alleges Canada Post is in violation of human-rights law by refusing to cancel Your Ward News, a Beaches-based tabloid he says prints racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic content.

Mr. Warman initially sent written complaints to Public Services Minister Judy Foote and Canada Post president Deepak Chopra in March, but says distribution continued.

He referred to the publication as “racist, Holocaust-denying, misogynistic garbage” and said it was “disgraceful and disgusting” that Canada Post continues to expose residents and Canada Post employees to the offensive content.

According to the publication’s website, the tabloid is delivered to 300,000 residences and is read by more than one million people.

Jill Fairbrother lives at one of those residences, and has been receiving the publication for nearly two years. She says she initially just threw them out. Now, she is one of several community members and activists who have formed a coalition to try to have the delivery stopped.

The spring 2016 issue of Your Ward News includes content such as, “Communist Jews murdered over 50 million Christians in the Soviet Union,” and features an illustration of Bernie Farber, the executive director of the Mosaic Institute, on its cover dropping silver coins into the palm of Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts, who is illustrated as a Roman giving the Nazi salute.

A spokesperson for Canada Post said it takes the matter seriously. “We will consider the contents once we have had a chance to review the formal complaint.”

Canada Post has previously said it is responsible for delivering the mail, not for the mail’s content.

Mike Palecek, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), says union members should not be subjected to material of this kind in the workplace, yet Canada Post continues to let it circulate.

“They seem to be worried about infringing on the rights of racists,” he said. “There are a lot of things that could be done, like covering the material up with an envelope. Or better yet, calling it what it is – hate material – and stop letting it circulate.”

The CUPW filed a grievance with Canada Post earlier this month for being forced to deliver the publication.

Your Ward News editor James Sears says he stands by the publication and critics that don’t agree can “toss our paper in the trash.”

Toronto Developer Urbancorp Files For Bankruptcy Restructuring

Toronto developer Urbancorp Group has filed for bankruptcy restructuring, saying it hoped a court-ordered sale of some of its assets would help the builder cope with its mounting financial woes.

The company said it was working with trustee KSV Advisory Inc. and has started restructuring proceedings under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in hopes of reducing its debt.

“We determined, after much consideration and consultation, that a court-supervised process is the best way to deal with current cash flow issues,” chief executive officer Alan Saskin said in a release. “This will allow us to reduce debt in an efficient manner while continuing to focus on our core business.”

Urbancorp has more than 1,000 homes under construction in the Toronto area, and the company said the restructuring proposal was meant to ensure it could complete those homes in the next two years.

The restructuring includes five Urbancorp developments of single-family homes and townhouses in Toronto that were being developed as separate corporations and go by the names Downsview Park, St. Clair Village, Lawrence, Mallow and Patricia. It also includes Urbancorp’s property management company.

The filing comes little more than a month after Tarion Warranty Corp., which administers warranties on new homes on behalf of builders, announced it was planning to revoke Urbancorp’s registration on 17 projects because of issues with the company’s customer service, a high number of warranty claims and concerns about the company’s financial health.

In a statement on its website, Tarion said the restructuring proceedings did not appear to affect any of Urbancorp’s condo projects and would have no immediate impact on Urbancorp’s warranty coverage or Tarion’s threat to revoke the company’s warranty. “Tarion continues to gather more information about the process, and will share any relevant details as they become available,” the organization said.

Urbancorp has appealed Tarion’s findings, but had earlier warned investors it might be forced to sell some projects if it could not win its appeal.

Aside from financial issues in Toronto, the developer has also been under fire from investors in Israel. Urbancorp raised the equivalent of $60-million in bonds on the Tel Aviv stock market late last year, saying the money would help pay its debts, including a $50-million unsecured high-interest loan from a non-bank lender in Canada. The company also said it had taken out a $225-million loan last August, according to a translated version of Urbancorp’s filings with Israel’s securities commission, which were written in Hebrew.

Earlier this week, Urbancorp told its Israeli investors that three of its directors had resigned and that it expected to post a $15-million loss in the fourth quarter. It also warned that its ability to get an $8-million loan that Mr. Saskin had promised to give to the company was now likely “negligible.”

Urbancorp was launched in 1993 by Mr. Saskin, a former Cadillac Fairview executive, and has built dozens of condos and other housing developments in the Greater Toronto Area.

In its filings with the Tel Aviv securities commission late last year, the firm billed itself as “one of the top 10” developers in Canada, with a “AAA credit rating” and “connections with financial groups in Toronto and all over the world.”

However, the company has faced complaints from buyers as several of Urbancorp’s projects have either been cancelled or delayed. Last summer, Urbancorp cancelled a condo development known as Kingsclub in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood, and replaced it with plans to build rentals. Several contractors have registered construction liens against a project in the city’s Leslieville neighbourhood. Urbancorp also faces several lawsuits from contractors alleging the company has not paid, and from fellow condo developer and broker Brad Lamb over unpaid commissions.

Mr. Saskin did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. Last week, in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, he said Urbancorp was facing “several matters that we are currently working through with a view to continuing to develop more housing in the city.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Trump vs. Trump: Inside Toronto's 5-star tower struggle

In a 29th-floor superior room at Toronto’s Trump International Hotel and Tower, you can eat Trump-branded chocolate wrapped like a bar of gold. Lounging on your king-sized bed in your Trump robe and Trump slippers, you can browse a moody black-and-white sales advertisement for Trump Residences — the luxury condominiums several floors above — that invites you to “own Toronto’s most influential address.”

You can telephone your humble servant, the Trump Attaché, to inquire about the Trump Experiences touted in a slick bedside brochure, such as the Exhilarating Super Car Experience or the Exclusive Hockey Hall of Fame Tour with Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk.

You can express your displeasure when you learn the Van Riemsdyk Experience is “no longer available” because staff are “curating new Trump Experiences.” You can ask how much the tour would have cost, and the Attaché will pause politely as though she is checking for you, and then say that she is sorry, she doesn’t have that information.

Beneath the dazzling surface of what is, yes, a very nice hotel, you may find more reality checks. A package of Trump chocolate bars costs more than breakfast. Half of the residential condos at Toronto’s “most influential address” remain unsold. James van Riemsdyk has never even heard of the James van Riemsdyk tour, and — whoops — his name is misspelled in the ad. And behind the scenes, Donald J. Trump is at war with the developer of the tower that bears his name.

After 15 years of controversy, an investor revolt and now a U.S. Republican leadership campaign that has seen the billionaire businessman morph from bombastic long shot to presidential prospect, Talon International, the property developer, wants to erase his name from the Toronto skyline. They believe Donald Trump has tarnished his brand and the tower that wears it. 

Donald Trump holds no ownership stake in Trump tower. As with many of his hotel-condo projects around the world, he has licensed his brand for a fee. In Toronto, his company also has a long-term contract to manage the building.

Together, Trump and Talon — the company that built and marketed the tower — have faced years of bad press and a lawsuit by buyers who say they were misled by marketing materials. Now they are going after each other.

Trump’s hotel management company, anticipating an attempted ousting, filed a motion in December seeking to block Talon from delivering the blow, and threatened to sue the company and the tower condo boards for “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Trump argued that it manages the building at a five-star level, and said Talon is the real problem.

Trump was right, in one sense. Talon does want to cancel its licensing and management agreement, according to documents filed in court and Talon’s lawyer. However, Talon says it has every intention of doing so through the proper legal procedure, despite Trump’s allegations to the contrary.
Talon alleges Trump Toronto Hotel Management is not meeting its obligations. In an interview, Talon lawyer Symon Zucker says his clients are “no longer interested in the Trump brand” because Donald is actively diminishing it.

“It’s more important for him to be president than run a successful business,” Zucker said.
Alan Garten, general counsel at the Trump Organization, called Zucker’s comments “baseless and ignorant,” and pointed to the many accolades the Toronto hotel has received. The five-diamond rating from AAA. The five-star rating by the Forbes Travel Guide. Named the No. 1 hotel in Canada for 2015 by Conde Nast Traveler. Consistently ranked among the top three hotels in Toronto on TripAdvisor. 

Garten took a new swipe at Talon, blaming the developer for problems that have plagued the tower since Trump ceremonially broke ground with Talon executives nine years ago. Garten said Talon has been acting in its own best interest by imposing “unnecessary and excessive fees” on unit owners “to make up for the fact that the building was completed behind schedule and grossly over budget.”
At the groundbreaking in 2007, Donald Trump is flanked by Val Levitan, at left, CEO of developer Talon, and Talon chairman Alex Shnaider, the Russian-Canadian billionaire.
At the groundbreaking in 2007, Donald Trump is flanked by Val Levitan, at left, CEO of developer Talon, and Talon chairman Alex Shnaider, the Russian-Canadian billionaire.   
“At this point, the unit owners, the vast majority of which support Trump’s management of the building, have had enough,” the lawyer said.

In its December motion, Trump alleged that Talon wants to terminate the agreement in order to orchestrate a bulk sale of “more than 280 hotel and residential units” remaining in the developer’s ownership or control. Talon denies all of these claims. 

Donald Trump was not available for an interview because he is busy on the campaign trail, according to his lawyer. Trump hasn’t spoken to the Star since before 2012, when a journalist who had been reporting on the investor revolt was banned from Trump tower’s grand opening. But his confidence doesn’t seem to have wavered.

“I don’t think there is a hotter brand in the world than the Trump brand,” he told Bloomberg in February.

In that interview, Trump put a different spin on his dispute with Talon. He said his Toronto hotel is “a tremendous success” and that’s why the developer wants to sell. “Normally I would let them do that. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t,” he said. “I’d rather buy it.”

The deterioration of the Trump-Talon relationship, which is documented in records filed in Ontario Superior Court, is unfolding like a messy divorce. The outcome will determine whether the Trump name has a place in Toronto.

Trump swoops in
The tower that stands in a former parking lot at the southeast corner of Bay and Adelaide Sts. wasn’t supposed to be a Trump hotel.

Donald Trump was a surprise addition to the project team when he first came to Toronto in 2001 to trumpet his involvement in a press conference with then-mayor Mel Lastman. Trump had joined forces with the Bowmore Group, a Toronto developer, on a plan to build a five-star hotel-condo that would be a Ritz-Carlton.
Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman and Donald Trump  in front of a picture of the proposed Toronto Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences (as it was then being called) in June 2001.
Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman and Donald Trump in front of a picture of the proposed Toronto Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences (as it was then being called) in June 2001.  (FRANK GUNN)  
As the cameras rolled that day at city hall, Trump boasted that actors Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone might even buy units. 

“We have a following where if we build something, people sign and they don’t even know what I’m building,” Trump said.

The project was a big deal for Toronto. The city was becoming a major financial power centre, but it didn’t have a five-star hotel. The closest thing was the old Four Seasons, which was dated. It was rumoured that some VIPs would fly in for the day to do business and then leave, not wanting to sleep between four-star sheets.

Leading the development plan for the Bowmore Group was Leib Waldman, a 53-year-old businessman who would quickly turn out to have a padded resumé and a checkered past. His partners were surprised to learn, from a Star investigation in 2002, that he had been convicted of bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement in the U.S. in 1995 and had skipped out on his jail term.

Months after the revelation, the Ritz dropped out. It looked like the idea was dead, but in 2004, Trump was back with a new plan and the project was rebranded Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto.
Under construction in March 2011.
Under construction in March 2011.   (DAVID COOPER)  
By then, the New York real estate mogul’s star power had grown. It had been more than a decade since Trump narrowly escaped bankruptcy, rolling loans and packaging debt to salvage his empire. Now he was a reality TV star on The Apprentice, which had premiered on NBC in January. He hosted Saturday Night Live. He grinned from the book cover of Trump: How to Get Rich.

Talon International took over as developer. Company chairman Alex Shnaider, a Russian-Canadian entrepreneur, was a 36-year-old married father with an intriguing story of his own. He had made a fortune in the steel-trading industry. He drove a $400,000 steel-grey Bentley. He bought a Formula One team for $50 million. More recently, he hired Justin Bieber to sing at his daughter’s 16th birthday party.

Shnaider and a friend, Val Levitan, formed Talon to develop the Trump project, with Levitan as CEO. It was their first Toronto real-estate venture. As owner, Talon would build the 65-storey tower and take charge of marketing and selling its 118 residential and 261 hotel condos. Trump would lease his name to the project and, once it was built, his company would manage it, running all services and amenities except for parking, food and spa. 

Despite alluding to one, Trump made no financial investment. His involvement is limited to the licensing and management agreements. 

Talon kicked off sales in late 2004. In a glass-walled office on the future project site, the company marketed two types of luxury units. Investors could purchase hotel condominiums — basically a traditional hotel room with the word “condo” in its name — which would be placed in a profit-earning rental pool to be managed by Trump. Or they could buy residential condominiums, which were permanent homes with kitchens and dining rooms that would sit atop the hotel and see owners benefit from amenities such as the pool and spa.

“That’s a typical formula in the marketplace because (five-star) hotels can’t make enough money to stand on their own,” said James McKellar, a professor of real estate and infrastructure at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “But the developer can sell luxury condos with that hotel name and then use that to offset some of the development costs of the hotel.

“The decision you make then is you better make sure you’ve got a good hotel and that that name is a real brand-name that stands up to time.”

Shnaider shocked the city with sky-high prices. Condos were to average $800 a square foot, among the most expensive real estate in the country, with starting prices of $1.5 million. Hotel units were selling for upwards of $700,000.

Industry experts were skeptical. The developers were inexperienced, the condo market was softening and the hotel industry was in dire straits in the aftermath of SARS. “They are asking some serious Manhattan-type prices, and as much as we would like to think this is New York, it isn’t,” housing analyst Will Dunning said at the time.

After securing $310 million in funding to begin construction, Talon broke ground in the fall of 2007. Trump, Shnaider and Levitan appeared together at a press conference. Grinning, they dug gold-plated shovels into a ceremonial pile of Trump-branded dirt.

Problems followed. Months later, the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit the U.S. and the ripple effects cooled the Toronto housing market. Though Talon had said the tower would be open by 2010, construction dragged on for years. Soon, Trump was no longer the only big-name luxury hotel-condo in town. The Ritz was back with a new developer and location in the Entertainment District. The Four Seasons was building a new hotel in Yorkville, and the Shangri-La had a $400-million project on University Ave. 

By 2011, with the economy on shaky ground and four luxury hotels slated to open in a single year, analysts questioned whether Toronto could support so many high-end rooms.

Investor revolt
On April 16, 2012, a flank of black Cadillac Escalades pulled into the porte-cochère at 325 Bay St. and Donald Trump emerged, chin forward, hair fluorescent, squinting at the cheering crowd. He flashed a bored, tight-lipped smile, waved hello and gave the thumbs-up. Cameras flashed. Trump tower was officially open.

Trump’s entourage moved through the gleaming lobby and rode the elevator to a 10th-floor ballroom, where he stood on a stage flanked by three of his children along with Mayor Rob Ford and Shnaider.
As a triumphant drum-and-horn crescendo boomed from an unseen sound system, four women in thigh-baring dresses paraded down the aisle carting gold scissors on cloth-draped platters. They handed them to Trump and his VIPs, who cut clumsily into a long red ribbon rolled out by two white-gloved Toronto police officers. The bigwigs exchanged smiles and handshakes. But behind the scenes, they had a problem. Over the next eight months, dozens of investors — mainly purchasers of the 261 hotel units — would refuse to pay closing costs and assume ownership of their units.

The panicked buyers were not all the wealthy foreign investors people had imagined. Sarbjit Singh, a 52-year-old father of two and warehouse supervisor from Milton, was making about $55,000 a year and had no investment experience beyond the purchase of his family home when he visited the Talon sales centre in December 2006. He didn’t have the $173,400 deposit required to purchase a 571-square-foot hotel unit priced at $869,000, so he borrowed the money from his father, a retired welder, who took out a line of credit on his home.

Se Na Lee, 43, a homemaker living in Richmond Hill with her husband, Andrew Lee, 46, a mortgage agent, also borrowed money from her parents to put a $171,400 deposit on a 653-square-foot, $857,000 hotel suite.

Lee and Singh were shown marketing materials that projected room rates of $500 to $600 a night and 75-per-cent occupancy, or in a worst-case scenario, 55 per cent and still profitable, according to a lawsuit later filed in Ontario Superior Court. Though a disclaimer warned the materials were “not a guaranteed investment program,” Talon sales agents assured buyers the Trump brand and “buzz” around the project would lead to success. The buyers said agents told them Trump had mortgage programs with two major lenders, and getting a loan for a minimum 65 per cent of the purchase value wouldn’t be a problem.
The April 2012 opening. From left, Jim Petrus, COO of Trump Hotel Collection, Alex Shnaider,  Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
The April 2012 opening. From left, Jim Petrus, COO of Trump Hotel Collection, Alex Shnaider, Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.  (Alex Urosevic/iPhoto Agency)  
After the hotel opened in January 2012, Lee and Singh took interim occupancy, which is a temporary phase of possession — a kind of legal limbo — that is standard in the sale of new condos. With a traditional condo, it means a buyer can move in but does not immediately assume ownership. For the Trump hotel unit investors, it meant they would begin paying fees and earning income on their rooms, but Talon wouldn’t transfer ownership or request the balance of the purchase price until final closing months later. 

When their first statements arrived during interim occupancy, Lee and Singh were shocked to discover their units were running at a loss, far below the worst-case scenario Talon marketers had predicted, according to their claim. Maintenance fees were higher than anticipated. Occupancy and room rates were much lower. Instead of building a nest egg, they were losing $4,000 to $5,000 a month. 

As Talon gave notice that final closing would take place in November, investors scrambled to find lenders willing to offer a mortgage on the money-losing properties. Many couldn’t. Singh and others did not close. Lee was among a minority who paid final costs, and from October 2012 to December 2014, her losses totalled $134,500, according to her claim. 

Toronto lawyer Mitchell Wine represents Singh, Lee and 20 other buyers who in late 2012 sued everyone involved — including Talon, Trump Toronto Hotel Management, as well as Donald Trump, Shnaider and Levitan personally — alleging they were “victims of an investment scheme and conspiracy.” 

The lawsuit, which sought to cancel the deals and recover losses, alleged that Talon sales agents misled buyers with marketing materials based on “reckless and negligent misrepresentations” and led them to believe they were buying a piece of real estate directly from Donald Trump, who the investors alleged was obligated to ensure Talon had “the experience and integrity to develop the Trump Hotel properly.” 

It also argued that Talon violated an exemption granted by the Ontario Securities Commission in 2004, which had freed the developer from regulations meant to protect rookie investors, with the condition that Talon not provide potential buyers with financial projections. The OSC investigated, but decided not to take action.

Talon and its executives denied the allegations, arguing that all investments are risky and the purchasers were experiencing an extreme case of buyer’s remorse. They filed counterclaims seeking the balance of payment. Talon said the investors weren’t amateurs and they were not “buying cupcakes,” as Shnaider put it in one interview. 

Trump’s lawyer said he “had nothing to do with the sales process,” but added that the lawsuit appeared to be “a desperate, last-ditch attempt by a small group of buyers to get out of what were clear and unequivocal purchase contracts.”

As the case wound its way through the courts, Talon was left with more than 200 of the 261 money-losing hotel suites, and it still held more than half of the 118 residential condos. Levitan resigned and Neil Labatte, a former Fairmont Hotels executive, took over the daunting task of marketing the project.

Luxury hotel occupancy was hovering at 50 to 60 per cent and amid the glut of new rooms, rates were $300 to $400 a night. Trump tower had PR problems, too. A pane of glass fell from the building during installation, closing a downtown intersection during rush hour. Hotel restaurants were skewered by critics. 

Last summer, Superior Court Justice Paul Perell delivered a victory for Trump, Talon and the companies’ executives. Perell dismissed the claims of Lee and Singh, whose arguments were presented as test cases representing the group of 22 in a legal fast-tracking process known as summary judgment. Perell agreed that Talon’s marketing materials were “deceptive documents,” but ruled it wasn’t reasonable for the buyers to rely on them and said they did not breach OSC marketing regulations. He said the buyers knew that all investments are risky.

Perell also specifically dismissed allegations that Donald Trump should be held personally responsible, saying the argument was “devoid of any merit.” Lawyers for Talon and Trump applauded the ruling. The investors have appealed, and a hearing is set for June. Wine and his clients aren’t commenting while the case is before the courts. Shnaider and Labatte refused interview requests, and Zucker, their lawyer, won’t speak about the appeal. 

Win or lose, Trump and Talon now have bigger problems.

Gloves come off for partners
Bad feelings between Trump and Talon had been silently simmering for years, but the dispute came to a head last spring.

In April 2015, lawyers for Trump Toronto Hotel Management slapped Talon with a notice of default, unleashing a torrent of complaints on the company. Trump alleged Talon was engaging in a “calculated scheme” to frustrate Trump’s management performance by interfering in the building’s operation. 

The hotel and residential units at Trump tower each have their own condominium corporations, which are made up of owners. Central to the dispute is the fact that Talon, four years after opening, still holds the majority of hotel units and residential condos in the building. That means the company vote outweighs that of the other owners.

“Talon has openly stated on numerous occasions that because it owns the majority of units, Talon has the right to do whatever it pleases,” Trump alleged in the notice, which was later filed as a court exhibit. 

Trump said it believed the interference was driven by Talon’s desire to take over management. The notice ended with a warning: stop meddling or Trump would take legal action, potentially demanding the developer remove Trump branding from the property.

In a response, Talon lawyers denied all allegations, saying the notice was full of inaccuracies and omissions. The real story, according to the developer, is that Talon was forced to become more involved as it became clear the building was being improperly managed. Talon accused Trump management of hiring unqualified staff, not resolving various maintenance issues and failing to produce financial records — issues that came up again when the condo boards fired back at Trump with their own notices of default a few months later.
Toronto's Trump tower, in its young life, has rarely been far from controversy. Now some argue the U.S. Republican race has tainted the brand.
Toronto's Trump tower, in its young life, has rarely been far from controversy. Now some argue the U.S. Republican race has tainted the brand.   (Rick Madonik)  
Talon lawyers said in the response they believed Trump’s ultimate objective is to devalue the tower and purchase it at a discount. The evidence: senior Trump executives had expressed an interest in acquiring the entire project for $100 million, Talon said, and potential investors revealed that Trump employees had been disparaging the project and Talon’s handling of it.

That fall, Talon — as majority owner — initiated a special meeting of the hotel and condo boards, outlining the purpose in a memo: to vote on whether to terminate Trump. Trump took it straight to court, filing a motion in December accusing Talon and the boards of trying to unlawfully end their contract, which is how a private fight became part of the public record. The motion sought to stop Talon from cancelling the management agreement, arguing the company was required to first participate in mediation and arbitration.

Talon’s real motive, Trump and company lawyers alleged, was to sell off its units in a bulk sale to repay “hundreds of millions of dollars” owed to banks that funded the development, and then wipe its hands of the project.

Trump warned that it could sue the condo and hotel boards, including Talon, for “potentially hundreds of millions of dollars” for cancelling the contract. The terms of the management agreement are not public, but according to financial documents disclosed last year by Donald Trump’s campaign, Trump Toronto Hotel Management collected $543,094 in fees from Talon over an 18-month period beginning in 2014.

In response, a lawyer for the condo boards said they were only seeking permission from owners to terminate Trump management, not taking immediate steps to do so. Trump and Talon are now in mediation and Trump’s motion has been shelved. Talon did not file a response, but in an interview, its lawyer denied Trump’s allegations. 

“This is not some lawless attempt to get rid of Mr. Trump,” Zucker said. “We hope that we can resolve matters.” Zucker said the project is a “landmark development” that will continue to experience success once the matter is resolved.

“The project in Toronto is the unfortunate hostage to events in the United States which are outside of its control,” Zucker said.

The controversy that has surrounded Trump tower is unlikely to disappear with Donald on the campaign trail, making headlines with every new pronouncement. Last year, after he made widely derided racist statements about Mexican immigrants — calling them “rapists” who are “bringing crime” to America — and proposed blocking all Muslim people from entering the U.S., Toronto turned its anger toward Trump tower.

In December, councillor Josh Matlow made a public call for Talon to remove Trump’s name from the building, arguing it was a blemish on Toronto’s skyline. Lisabeth Pimentel, president of Unite Here Local 75, the union that represents some Trump hotel workers, said hotel staff members “get a lot of questions from customers about Trump” and his positions. 

“We shouldn’t have to answer for his behaviour,” she said. In August, hospitality workers staged a demonstration with a mariachi band outside the hotel-condo to protest the Republican candidate’s anti-immigrant statements.

Trump’s people don’t see the damage others believe has been done.

“The Trump brand is stronger than ever,” said Garten, his lawyer. “Not just in Toronto but throughout Canada.”

Monday, April 4, 2016

Toronto Star and Toronto Sun 2015 Paid Circulation Figures - Down We Go.

The Canadian Circulations Audit Board (CCAB) has released its annual circulation data for 40 of its paid and non-paid daily newspaper members, which includes four of Canada’s largest newspaper publishers: Sun Media, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., Torstar Corporation, TC Media and Free Daily News Group Inc.

The CCAB (a division of global assurance provider BPA Worldwide) data covers the 12-month period, which ended in December 2015. Its members are reporting an average weekly circulation of more than 13 million copies, as well as a net unique recipient subscriptions served across multiple platforms in audience reports and Trend Report About Circulation (TRAC).

“We are pleased to simultaneously release data – the majority of it audited – for the 12-month period ended December 2015 for 40 daily newspapers,” Tim Peel, vice president of CCAB, said. “The audit period coincides with the fieldwork from January through December 2015 that forms Vividata’s upcoming data release. Further, quarterly circulation claims for daily newspapers will continue to be released throughout the year to provide the market with timely data.”

Some stats from the 2015 Paid Daily Newspaper TRAC:

The Hamilton Spectator (Metroland Media Group Ltd.):
Weekly average total circulation—113,052
average weekly net recipients—106,558
Average weekly Paid—72,282
Average weekly free/sponsored—40,770
The Toronto Star (Toronto Star Newspaper Ltd.):
Weekly average total circulation—303,881
Weekly average net recipients—271,078
Weekly average paid—192,084
Weekly average free/sponsored—116,797

Toronto Sun (SunMedia, Postmedia Network division):
Weekly average total circulation—119,048
Weekly average net recipients—110,354
Weekly average paid—85,775
Weekly average free/sponsored—33,273
During the first quarter of 2016, newspaper audience data reported for each quarter will be compared to the prior year’s quarter. Year-over-year comparisons have always been presented in annual TRAC releases.

The CCAB Daily Newspaper TRAC can be found here, in English and French.

Please share this

GTA Developer donations influence local election outcomes, study finds

Developer contributions made to the election campaigns of municipal candidates directly influence the outcomes of local elections, says a report being released Monday that analyzes the financial statements of candidates who ran in 13 municipalities around the Lake Simcoe watershed in 2014 — including a handful within the GTA.

The report called If It’s Broke, Fix It: a Report on the Money in Municipal Campaign Finances of 2014 prepared by a grassroots group, Campaign Fairness Ontario found that candidates who took contributions from developers were twice as likely to be elected as those who did not report such contributions.

The group says it is concerned about the “troubling relationship between corporate funding and election outcomes in Ontario” and is calling for the province to allow municipalities to “ban corporate and union contributions to municipal election campaigns” — similar to what Toronto opted for in 2009, prior to the 2010 municipal election.

“Development funding is still the largest component of corporate funding, and that is worrisome,” said York University political science professor Robert MacDermid, who analyzed the financial statements of nearly 300 candidates who ran in 13 municipalities including Newmarket, Barrie, Aurora and Orillia in 2014. “And most of it comes from outside the municipality,” he said.

“This money is flowing into local elections from outside, and it represents interests outside . . . and to some degree potentially distorts what representative politics should be about,” he said.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has confirmed it will make an announcement on Monday about changes to the Municipal Elections Act, which would “give municipalities more local choice in future municipal elections,” according Mark Cripps, a spokesman with Minister Ted McMeekin’s office.

“Our goal is to develop policy proposals to make the Municipal Elections Act as effective as possible,” said Cripps. “We recognize that any proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act will need to be in place well in advance of the next municipal elections in 2018, to allow municipalities sufficient time to prepare for any changes that come out of the review.”

Monday’s announcement is also expected to include legislation allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots in the 2018 election, a move Toronto council once endorsed before voting to reverse its position in 2015.

On Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne said the civic changes are “further evidence that this is something that we have been looking at for some time.”

“This is not a new issue for us. We didn’t just discover this issue three weeks ago. This is an issue that we have been on — we’re working on it — which is why we’ll be ready in the fall to bring forward a plan,” she said, referring to provincial changes sparked in part by recent Star stories.

The announcement is a long time coming, said Ajax Mayor Steve Parish, who said he has been pushing for reform at the municipal level for decades.

“I have been talking about the improper influence of certain funds going into the system, and how it improperly affects, often in a negative way, how municipalities are developed,” he said, adding Ajax passed a resolution asking to the province to be allowed to ban corporate donations in 2009, but had not heard anything since.

Claire Malcolmson, who works with Campaign Fairness Ontario, said the campaign was started by people working to protect the Lake Simcoe watershed, but found their efforts were limited by who was at the council table. “We realized it was important to get councils in place who prioritize the protection of the environment and the interests of their citizens at least as much as they prioritize the development industry interests,” she said.

Among other findings in the report:
Money from the development industry makes up more than half (54 per cent) of all donations received from corporations.
Development industry funding is far greater where the value of the building permits is the highest and where more developers have projects in the approval process that are dependent on council decisions.
Almost 60 per cent of corporate donations to candidates came from outside the municipality where the candidate was running — and 73 per cent of developer donations came from outside the municipality.
Citizen engagement in municipal politics is low. Just one person in 650 in the 13 municipalities MacDermid studied contributed more than $100.
Nearly half of the candidates self-financed their campaigns.

MacDermid says the influence of the development industry on elections is not remote, and directly affects the quality of life of residents.

“Just look at the GTA,” he said. “There is urban sprawl everywhere. That was developer choices and politician’s choices.

“The evidence is everywhere for us to see about what was the impact of this relationship. We are all paying the cost of this relationship.”