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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Woman, 19, accused of throwing a chair off downtown Toronto balcony, turns herself in

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A 19-year-old woman has turned herself in to police, four days after a widely viewed video showed a chair being tossed off a downtown Toronto highrise balcony, sparking huge outrage.

Marcella Zoia, a Toronto resident, walked in to 52 Division around 7 a.m. this morning. She has been charged with mischief endangering life, mischief involving damage to property and common nuisance.

Det. Todd Higo said Zoia was alone when she turned herself in.

She is scheduled to appear in College Park court today in room 505.

Police said in a news release that they started an investigation into the incident that happened 10 a.m. Saturday in the Harbour St and York St. area.

A video of the incident, which was widely shared online, shows a young woman picking up a folding chair and tossing it over the railing hundreds of feet in the air.

The video follows the chair as it hurtles towards the busy Gardiner Expressway and ends just before it hits the ground. Police later said a second chair and other items were tossed as well.

Const. David Hopkinson on Wednesday said detectives are investigating whether the apartment unit was being rented as a short-term rental.

In a short statement, Airbnb spokesperson Ben Brait said the company is investigating whether any of its users were involved in the incident.

“We are outraged by the blatant disregard for community safety on display in the video,” he said.

“We will be suspending any guest accounts that appear to be connected to this incident. Additionally, we have reached out proactively to Toronto police to offer our full support to help them investigate this abhorrent behaviour.”

Ajax woman Tyler Walton told the Star she believed she rented the same unit Saturday night, the same day as the chair-throwing incident, through AirBnB.

She said she saw the broken chairs on the street in front of the condo tower’s Lake Shore Blvd. W. entrance and later noticed the unit did not have the balcony set shown in the online listing. She said she didn’t put two and two together until she saw the video.

“I saw the chairs outside on the street and joked to my boyfriend that they looked like they were thrown,” she said. “He didn’t think anyone was dumb enough to do that.”

The online listing for the unit — Walton said it’s a south-facing apartment on the 45th floor — includes pictures of a patio set that appear to match the chairs in the video.

Walton said she asked the AirBnB host if the unit should have had a balcony set, and was told yes.

Walton said the AirBnB host told her to arrive later than the regular check-in time because the previous guests had left it “a disaster.”

Read more:

Toronto police investigating ‘reckless’ video of woman throwing chair from downtown highrise

Opinion | Emma Teitel: Toronto’s chair thrower is a symptom of a bigger problem

Condo-heavy areas at high risk for fires started by careless smokers

Fairbnb researcher and spokesperson Thorben Wieditz said it’s not unusual to hear residents in downtown highrises in the area complain about problems caused short-term rentals.

“It’s very common for partiers and Airbnb guests to throw stuff off the condos. What we haven’t seen yet is something like those two chairs that could have very well caused death,” he said, noting the group is “desperately” waiting for the city’s regulations on short-term rentals to come into effect.

Hopkinson said Monday that he was “outraged” at the incident.

“Anybody could’ve been walking underneath,” he said, adding if someone was hit, they could have suffered “catastrophic” injuries.

A conviction for mischief endangering life could result in jail time, Hopkinson told the Star earlier.

With files from Gilbert Ngabo

Jack Hauen is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jackhauen

Alexandra Jones is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @AlexandraMaeJ

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Woman who allegedly tossed chair over balcony surrenders to police

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A woman accused of tossing a chair off a condo balcony in downtown Toronto has turned herself in, police say.

The woman surrendered on Wednesday morning. Police have not released her name or age. No charges have been announced.

The woman appeared at Toronto Police Service’s 52 Division at about 7 a.m., according to Staff Sgt. Ron Boyce.

Her surrender comes after a video surfaced on social media on the weekend that shows a blond woman, dressed in black, tossing a chair from a highrise building.

On Monday, police made a public appeal for the woman to surrender, saying they knew her identity.

The chair is seen fluttering in the wind as it makes it way down towards the highway. (Lisa Calderon/Facebook )

The video was shared widely on social media.

Police believe the chair-throwing incident occurred Saturday around 10 a.m. ET at a condo in the Harbour and York streets area, which overlooks the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. 

They said two chairs, among other items, were thrown over the balcony. Police are still looking for the person who videotaped the chair throwing.

There was outrage over the possibility the tossed objects could have injured someone or caused an accident, as the expressway is right below.

On Monday, Const. David Hopkinson, spokesperson for the Toronto police, said he obtained a copy of the video on Sunday and police began to investigate the next day. 

In a news release, police had said it was a mischief-endangering life investigation.

The items, which police said were thrown from a « very high floor » in the building, landed in front of the entrance to the condo, police said.

Police said they received a flurry of emails from members of the public with information about the woman.

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We know who you are — turn yourself in, Toronto police tell woman videotaped tossing chair from condo

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Toronto police say they know the identity of a woman caught on video throwing a chair from an upper floor of a downtown condo building, but don’t know her exact whereabouts and want her to surrender.

Police received a « significant amount of information » from the public that helped officers determine the woman’s identity, Const. David Hopkinson of the Toronto Police Service said on Tuesday

He declined to release the woman’s name or age, but told CBC Toronto: « We are in the midst of contacting her and giving her an opportunity to consult a lawyer and turn herself in. »

Hopkinson confirmed police have spoken with the woman or someone acting as her representative.

Police believe the chair-throwing incident occurred Saturday around 10 a.m. ET at a condo in the Harbour and York streets area, which overlooks the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. It was captured on video and shared widely on social media on Monday. 

The chair that was thrown over the balcony is seen fluttering in the wind as it makes it way down towards the highway. (Lisa Calderon/Facebook )

Hopkinson said two chairs, among other items, were thrown over the balcony. Police are also looking for the person who videotaped the chair throwing.

There has been outrage over the possibility the tossed objects could have injured someone or caused an accident, as the expressway is right below.

Hopkinson said he obtained a copy of the video on Sunday and police began to investigate on Monday. 

The items, which police say were thrown from a « very high floor » in the building, landed in front of the entrance to the condo, police said in a news release.

Police have said the woman is wanted for a mischief investigation, but Hopkinson declined to say which charges she could be facing.

A video posted on the weekend on Facebook with the caption « good morning » shows a woman, dressed in black, taking a peek over the balcony, and then throwing a folding chair onto the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard below. 

On Monday, police released a photo of the woman, who they say appears to be in her 20s.

Police said the incident has prompted dozens of calls. 

« People can stop calling now, » Hopkinson said.

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Police seek public’s help in ID’ing woman in video that shows her tossing chair off condo balcony

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Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a young woman who threw chairs off the upper floor of a downtown Toronto condo building.  

A video posted on the weekend on Facebook with the caption « good morning » shows the woman taking a peek over the balcony, and then throwing a folding chair onto the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard below.

As of mid-morning Monday, police said they believe the incident took place in the last few days and that two chairs were thrown, not one as originally thought. 

Sgt. Ron Boyce told Radio-Canada that police believe the condo is at 55 Bremner Blvd., and said condo management is working with them. 

The video cuts out before the chair she’s seen tossing lands on the highway, so it’s not possible to determine if it hits a car or causes an accident.  

The chair is seen spinning in the wind as it falls down towards the highway. (Lisa Calderon/Facebook )

​Last week, the CBC reported on residents of a downtown condo tower who were infuriating their neighbours in a nearby building by throwing trash and liquor bottles, and vomiting from their balconies.

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New TTC chair Jaye Robinson says Toronto needs a permanent ‘seat at the table’ if province takes over the subway

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The new chair of the TTC says she’s “gravely concerned” with the province’s plans to take ownership of the subway network, arguing it’s critical the city retain control over its transit destiny.

In an interview Friday, Jaye Robinson, who was appointed by council on Dec. 13 to lead the transit agency’s board, spoke about the course she plans to chart for the TTC over the coming four-year term, including her desire to increase service and seek out another potential manufacturer for new streetcars.

The biggest looming challenge, she said, is the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s push to upload the subway system to the province.

Robinson said that while there remains a lot of uncertainty about the proposal, what she’s heard so far is troubling.

She noted the TTC’s subway, bus and streetcar lines are heavily integrated. “So to pluck one piece of the system out, I don’t think is going to serve anyone well,” she said.

Earlier this month, council voted to enter into talks with the province about the upload proposal, after receiving legal advice that the city has no legislative power to block the province’s plan.

Robinson said should an upload take place, the city needs to continue to have a say in subway planning in order to ensure the Relief Line is built before any other new projects. Critics of the upload plan worry that Queen’s Park would prioritize projects like a Line 1 extension to Richmond Hill instead.

“We need a seat at the table, not just now but forever,” Robinson said.

“The number one concern for me is influencing the future of transit in Toronto.”

Robinson’s Ward 15, Don Valley West is bounded on the west by the Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) subway, and she said she’s heard clearly from constituents it’s already overcrowded.

Taking pressure off Line 1 by building the Relief Line, which would cost at least $6.8 billion, “has to be prioritized, or it’s going to cripple the city,” Robinson said.

A three-term councillor, Robinson said she rides the subway to work every day and is proud she doesn’t know the location of her allotted parking space at city hall.

Robinson’s political views lean centre-right, and she was a steady ally of Mayor John Tory last term, serving as a member of his hand-picked executive committee.

Tory recommended Robinson for the TTC role, which is something of a promotion for the councillor. She also had a high-profile job last term when she served as chair of the public works committee.

The councillor sided with the mayor on significant transit-related decisions at council meetings over the past four years, including voting to support the King St. pilot project, as well as to advance Tory’s SmartTrack plan and the contentious Scarborough subway extension.

In February, she voted with the majority of councillors to increase the TTC budget by $2 million to alleviate subway overcrowding.

The year before she sided with the mayor to help vote down a motion to spend $1.2 million to improve subway power and signal reliability.

She said Friday she couldn’t specifically remember what her reasoning was for opposing the spending, but asserted she’s committed to improving the subway signalling system.

Headed into the 2019 budget process, city staff, with the mayor’s blessing, have asked all agencies and departments to prepare spending plans that keep expenditures at 2018 levels. Council will finalize the budget in March.

Robinson said she wants to expand TTC service, but conceded “that would be tough to do” unless the transit agency gets more money.

The TTC already receives a lower per rider subsidy than other comparable transit agencies. This year the city provided an operating subsidy of about $578.8 million, while fare revenue made up the remainder of the TTC’s $1.8-billion operating budget.

“They are strapped for cash, there’s no question there,” Robinson said.

The cost of riding transit rose every year between 2011 and 2017, before the board implemented a freeze in 2018. The new chair said she hopes to avoid fare increases in 2019.

“I would hate to see the cost on transit riders go up, because they’re doing the city a favour by riding the system, quite frankly. It takes pressure off the roadways,” she said.

The TTC board will likely have to decide as early as next year on the thorny question of whether to pick up an option in the agency’s contract with Bombardier to buy additional streetcars from the company.

TTC staff say that in order to meet growing demand the agency could need another 60 vehicles on top of the 204 it’s already ordered, and despite the Quebec-based manufacturer’s well-publicized struggles to produce the first batch of cars on time, finding another supplier could take years longer and carry additional risks.

Although Bombardier has improved its rate of production recently, Robinson said she’s open to looking for another manufacturer.

“I think certainly we should look at alternatives and options down the road because it’s been far from ideal,” she said of the $1-billion Bombardier deal.

On the frequently glitchy Presto fare card program, Robinson vowed to “push harder” on Metrolinx, the provincial agency that owns Presto, to improve reliability.

The TTC board’s first meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Unfilled Speaker’s chair could bring on another election — this fall

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Forget about throne speeches, confidence votes and two-party deals. A looming standoff over who will be Speaker of the New Brunswick legislature could bring it all to a screeching halt.

In fact, it could plunge the province into a new election campaign this fall.

As of today, no one seems to want the job, despite its cabinet-level salary and perks, including a government car.

Miramichi Bay-Neguac MLA Lisa Harris said she might be Speaker of the house at the end of her career but not now. (Jacqueline Cormier)

« Am I going to be Speaker of the house? Probably at the end of my career, » Miramichi Bay-Neguac Liberal Lisa Harris said at an orientation session for MLAs on Thursday.

When would that be?

« A long time from now, » she said.

Moncton Northwest MLA Ernie Steeves said he’s not interested in being the Speaker and will do what his leader, Blaine Higgs, tells him. (CBC)

Moncton Northwest Progressive Conservative MLA Ernie Steeves said he’s not interested either.

« I’m OK, » he said. « I do whatever the leader tells me to do. »

Liberal Premier Brian Gallant and Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs both say they won’t allow any member of their respective caucuses to seek the position.

Both say it’s up to their opponent  to put forward a name.

« He’s going to have to try to put up a Speaker, » Gallant said of Higgs this week.

But Higgs says if Gallant wants to hold on to power, he should do it.

No obligation

In fact, no party is obligated to provide a Speaker. All MLAs, except ministers and party leaders, are on the ballot by default until they remove their names.

Choosing a Speaker is the first order of business when the legislature begins a new session Oct. 23 following an election in which no party won a majority.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant and PC Leader Blaine Higgs say they don’t want any of their members to become Speaker. (CANADIAN PRESS)

Gallant’s Liberals will present a throne speech. If they can persuade MLAs from two smaller parties to support it — in effect a vote of confidence in the Liberal government — they can stay in power. If they lose that vote, the PCs will be sworn in.

But the legislature’s standing rules say none of that can happen until a Speaker is chosen.  « It takes precedence « over all other business, » say the rules adopted in 1994.

« If the legislative assembly fails to elect a Speaker, then the only way that the impasse can be broken is through early dissolution and another election, » said parliamentary expert James Bowden. « That’s the most likely scenario. »

Neither leader wants a Speaker from his caucus because it would reduce their ability to pass legislation in a house where the numbers are already razor-thin.

The PCs won 22 seats and the Liberals 21. Even if either party wins the support of one of the smaller parties — the Greens or the People’s Alliance, with three seats each  — it can’t afford to give up one MLA.

Other option

If no one budges, there is another possible step before an election, Bowden said.

Because the circumstances in New Brunswick are « so strange and exceptional, » Roy-Vienneau could swear in a PC government led by Higgs « and see whether the Assembly would be willing to elect a Speaker under him. »

There are precedents for both scenarios: in 1859, the lieutenant-governor of the colonial assembly on Prince Edward Island , Dominick Daly, declared it was his « painful duty » to dissolve the house after it spent two days trying in vain to choose a Speaker.

But in Newfoundland in 1908, a similar standoff led to a new government being sworn in.

In that election, the two parties won the same number of seats and both refused to let any member become Speaker.

The incumbent Liberal premier asked for a new election, which the governor refused. The other party, the People’s Party, was sworn in, but the house still couldn’t find a Speaker. Only then was a new election was called.

With the Liberals and PCs refusing to provide a Speaker, Gallant could try to persuade an MLA from one of the smaller parties to take the post.

Alliance, Greens not interested

But People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin told CBC News no one from his three-member caucus would accept.

Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance Party of New Brunswick, said no one from his party will put their name forward to be Speaker. (CBC)

« We’ve been elected to be a voice in the legislature, and I think being a Speaker diminishes that voice, » he said. « And where we only have three here, we want to make sure our voice is strong. »

The three Green MLAs have also ruled it out.

Rothesay PC MLA Ted Flemming is the only member who expressed a tongue-in-cheek interest in the position this week, mainly because of the ceremonial garb that comes with it.

« It takes me back to Loyalist Days, » he said. « I had a tricorn hat when I used to be around Loyalist Days, and it would be nice to get one back because I lost the first one that I had. »

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