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Residents of condo tower where woman threw chair off balcony say short-term rentals are not a problem

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A video of a woman throwing a chair off a downtown highrise balcony sparked immediate anger and outrage, but long-term residents of the building where it happened say such a display of recklessness is rare and has little or nothing to do with the proliferation of short-term rentals in the area.

Kevin Gaston moved into his one-bedroom condo at Maple Leaf Square nearly 10 years ago, and he remembers his neighbours then being mostly owners or long-term tenants.

Today, he says a number of units in the two towers at the corner of Bremner Blvd. and York St. have been turned into short-term rentals. There is also a large number of young students who save on housing costs by sharing condos, he says.

So when he saw the viral video, Gaston assumed it was “one of those scenarios, like a drunk teenager throwing a chair off the balcony. Crazier things have happened.”

Over the years, the behaviour of short-term renters has raised concerns in Toronto, but most residents at Maple Leaf Square were indifferent or expressed only mild concern over it.

The woman alleged to have thrown the chair, Marcella Zoia, turned herself in last week. She was charged in the incident and released on $2,000 bail, and will return to court next month. Her lawyer said she acted under “peer pressure.”

Police said they were looking into whether the unit where the “reckless” incident took place was a short-term rental. Airbnb said there was no evidence the woman used its platform, but confirmed it had suspended the account of a guest at the building as the service reviews the incident, and it is co-operating with police.

The apparent proliferation of short-term rentals at the twin towers near Scotiabank Arena has never been a cause of concern for Gaston. He said he doesn’t feel unsafe and has never been disturbed by noise from nearby units.

“If anything, it’s funny, because I just feel like a tour guide sometimes,” he said about the many confused people who ask for directions to navigate the path between two towers, get to the Longo’s or LCBO downstairs, or find the best place to eat nearby.

“The only thing is, I have seen more people using the swimming pool, because they’re on vacation and in Airbnb, so it gets crowded. Other than that, I’ve had no complaint, no problem at all.”

He’s not alone. On Thursday, the Star spent four hours in the condo’s lobby and at the two main entrances, speaking to residents and observing as individuals and small groups of people entered and exited, some with suitcases. About a dozen people, including a couple who said they had just landed from Paris, said they were staying in Airbnb units.

Dozens of residents who spoke to the Star said they know a large number of units in their building are used as Airbnb rentals. But they said disturbing incidents are rare and that people staying in short-term rentals are generally polite.

“Honestly, it doesn’t bother me,” said Stella Cabrera, who has lived at the building for nearly a year. Two units next to hers are used by short-term renters. She said she understands the convenience of Airbnb in the area, which lies near entertainment venues. Nearby hotels are expensive.

She said people can do irresponsible things even if they own the places they live in.

“That girl would probably have done the same if she was at another place that is not Airbnb,” she said about the chair-throwing incident.

Christina Wang said a unit across from hers is rented on Airbnb, and sometimes people leave the door open and noise spills out. She said some short-term renters don’t take care of things they don’t own, such as the chair in the video.

“It’s a case-by-case, I guess, but generally people who do Airbnb are nice,” she said. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal in terms of living conditions.”

Ivonne Flores, a recent graduate and a resident of Maple Leaf Square for the past two years, sometimes feels “uncomfortable” seeing strangers strolling in the building, which happens especially on weekends. Apart from the drinking and partying that tend to happen in Airbnb rentals, major incidents of concern are few, she said.

“That chair thing was the first, and it was surprising that everyone was making such a big deal about it,” she said.

Alex Wong, who has lived at the condo for the past five years, said the building has security guards who usually ask people for their names if they don’t have keys, and there’s a computer screen at the reception on the 9th floor where those staying in Airbnbs are supposed to log in.

“I’ve seen some bad ones, like people leaving pizza boxes in a hallway. But I’ve heard worse from other buildings. I think we’re OK here,” said

The chair-throwing incident did “freak” him out though, he added.

“That’s a crazy thing to happen, but Airbnb-ers don’t usually do that. Now I basically hug the wall when I walk home, just in case,” he said.

Fairbnb, a coalition that advocates for stricter regulation of short-term rentals, has repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of residents in highrises with large numbers of Airbnb units.

Speaking to the Star after the chair-throwing incident, Fairbnb spokesperson Thorben Wieditz said there have been incidents of short-term renters vomiting in swimming pools, leaving garbage in the hallways and stairs, and making life miserable for residents by partying and making noise.

At Maple Leaf Square, an office administrator confirmed to the Star there are units in the building that are used as Airbnb rentals. But property manager Lubko Belej declined to offer any further details, saying “police told us not to comment.”

“Right now, we’re working very hard with the police on this, and trying to keep our profile as low as possible, as you can imagine.”

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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