Homebuyers Ask Questions As Toronto-Based Urbancorp's Troubles Keep Piling Up

Monday Apr 18th, 2016



Warped, gray plywood lines Curzon Street in the east end of Toronto. The fence ends at a gate, which is padlocked. Behind the gate rises a neighbourhood of prime three-storey townhomes in black brick, which appear largely complete, with wood railings separating one unit's rooftop terrace from the next. Paper taped in the windows indicates the number of each dwelling: "515", "508", "205" and "202". In the mud and gravel around the homes lie a discarded shovel, an orange hardhat, lengths of pipe and plastic chairs, along with a stop sign of the sort workers use to direct traffic when trucks enter construction sites.

But there are no workers here now. A man who lives across the street says he last saw crews in January. "We were looking forward to families with kids moving in," he said.

Urbancorp, one of Toronto's busiest condominium and townhouse developers, markets this development as "The Neighbourhood of Leslieville"; its website depicts photos of nearby attractions such as The Friendly Thai and the Leslieville Cheese Market. But today, the 56 purchasers here are not sure when - or if - they will ever get the keys to their dream home.

Even as the red-hot Toronto housing market shows no signs of cooling down, there are increasing signs of trouble at Urbancorp, which have even made ripples overseas. Urbancorp had raised money on the Israeli Stock Exchange; the Israeli newspaper Haaretz warned: "$47.6M at Risk in Israel as Urbancorp Bonds Plunge Amid Doubts by Investors." And last week Tarion Warranty Corp., which administers the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act, sent a note advising customers of Urbancorp that "Tarion has issued a notice of proposal to revoke the registration of 17 Urbancorp related companies." It adds, "The decision...was made due to the builder's failure to meet Tarion's ongoing registration requirements."

Urbancorp, whose principal is Alan Saskin, has appealed to the License Appeal Tribunal. 

Tarion said that, in the meantime, the homebuyers and homeowners still have deposit protection, delay compensation and construction warranties for up to seven years. 

In another sign of trouble, 42 families moved into freehold townhomes that contractors for Urbancorp built on the site of a former Catholic school on Howie and Boulton Avenue in Toronto's Riverdale neighbourhood two years ago. Those buyers have still been unable to gain title to their homes. 

Land registry files show that New Generation Marin Inc., a drywall company in Woodbridge, ON., last month registered a lien for $189,068.80 against the Howie and Boulton properties.

An aerial photo of downtown Toronto on the Urbancorp website gives a scale of the developer's reach, with red arrows pointing to 19 projects. Just one of those red arrows, the Neighbourhoods of Queen Street E., represents well over 100 new homes. And that photo does not show Urbancorp projects further north on St. Clair Avenue, Lawrence Avenue and in Buttonville, north of Toronto. 

"Alan Saskin owes me a large amount of money," said Brad Lamb, who runs a large condominium sales agency and has also developed condos in Toronto. "We brought clients to his project, and he didn't pay us the commission," he added, pegging the debt at "betwen $500,000 and $1-million."

Lamb said he bought six units from Urbancorp.

"On several units he was beyond the Tarion delivery date, so we had a claim and Tarion had to pay the penalties," Lamb said. Referring to Urbancorp overall, Lamb said, "It doesn't look good. The thing is a mess." Lamb has filed suit against Urbancorp in the hope of recovering his money.

Don Givelos, who invests in real estate, bought two units from Urbancorp in the west part of downtown Toronto. When he got the keys to one unit, in a building on Lisgar Avenue, he found the gym incomplete, light fixtures without proper covers in common areas, scratches on the walls and elevators out of order, he said.

"I've dealt with Tridel and Menkes and others. Urbancorp is by far the worst builder I have ever had an experience with," Givelos said.

Givelos said Urbancorp has also held back $4500 on closing on the unit, to pay city property tax, though the city's online tax calculator, based on the Municipal Property Assessment Corp value, shows the taxes to be $1,830 a year.

Last year Urbancorp cancelled a 639-unit condominium project called Kingsclub on King Street West.

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