For those who believe that being a landlord paves a shortcut to prosperity, they may get slapped with a cold cruel reality when a Chinese student recently died in a rooming house fire.
At the time when interest rates were a historic low and when rental homes become rare commodities, being a landlord looked like a far easier way to make money compared to a 9-to-5 job which would need decades of blood, sweat, and tears to payoff mortgages. It seems a down payment is all what landlords need. After that, they can simply sit back, relax, and watch their rental property value soar while expecting to walk away with a bonanza.
Driven by a passion of becoming a landlord and attracted by the most lucrative games in the city, a flood of Chinese Canadians dove into the market, eager to taste the sweet nectar of the landlord life. They’ve become the homeowners of second, third and sixth homes, creating a landlord frenzy that has swept through the community. According to MPAC property assessment records, by 2016 over 120,000 Toronto homeowners own multiple dwellings – with majority of them being rented out.
Among those were the landlords of the 18-year-old foreign student from China who died in a horrific fire at her rental home in Scarborough. According to the Star, Zhou and his wife own six properties near the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus -- all being large, detached, single family homes. With dozens of renters occupying the multiple properties, they could rake in a handsome sum of monthly income.
But being a landlord is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is one of those professions that mostly look glamorous from the outside but hideous from the inside, and the truth of being a multiple-property landlord could be even uglier. Apart from landlords’ experiences and skills, it mostly requires remarkable efforts from the landlords to understand and comply with the law in order to stave off a possible disaster. When safety code violations turn a property into a death trap, fatal incident would be imminent and inevitable. Once a tenant’s life perishes, the landlord’s world falls apart.
多伦多火警队在对那场吞噬了大陆留学生的火灾进行初步调查后发现，大陆留学生居住的10 Haida Court 火灾现场出现多项安全违规，其中一项明显的火警违规为地下室仅仅有一个出口。《多伦多星报》在火灾后立即奔赴周的数栋物业，他们的调查发现，周夫妇的三栋物业被割划为多家出租房，而在士嘉宝这类出租房是违法的。
In their initial investigation of the fire at 10 Haida Court where the student died, fire investigators had allegedly found multiple violations in the property, including a basement with only one exit — a clear breach of the provincial fire code. At least three of the couple’s properties visited by the Star reporter right after the accident appeared to fit the city’s definition of a rooming house — which is illegal in Scarborough.
《星报》的调查还称，周所拥有的其他物业也出现了明显安全违规。在3321 Ellesmere Rd，他们发现有16名租客共同栖身于该屋檐下，而楼下的一个烟雾报警器已过期，而另一个在厨房的报警器也明显毁坏。地下室住了八名学生，共用两间霉菌丛生的洗澡间和两间厨房，一间厨房没有自来水。《星报》在地下室发现了至少两个破损或过期的报警器。周否认上述所有指控。
The Star investigation alleges that apparent safety hazards appeared in other properties owned by the landlords, including the property at 3321 Ellesmere Rd. Sixteen people lived at property, where one smoke detector downstairs passed the expiring date, and another in the kitchen appeared visibly broken. In the basement apartment, they found eight students sharing two mould-filled bathrooms and two kitchens — one of which did not have running water — and at least two broken or expired smoke detectors. Zhou denied the allegations.
The fire that took the life of the Chinese student left Zhou in a panic and frantic mode. The freaked-out landlord ordered tenants to move out and make other living arrangements on a short notice. But he seemed unaware that he as a landlord has no authority to evict a tenant, and that in case of safety code violations, only the city has the power to issue eviction orders.
With rooming house becoming the only affordable accommodation for many foreign students, landlords are cashing out on the growing housing affordability crisis in the city. But it isn’t smooth sailing to be a landlord and not everyone is cut out for it. In the event of a fatal accident, their lucrative, deemed sit-back-and-watch game would turn instantly into a haunted nightmare, as they hopelessly watch their investments burn in a vicious fire.
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