Intrapreneurship: Globe and Mail: Feb 2. 2015
Here's a link to my story in the Globe and Mail. It’s counterintuitive: Public agencies…
By Ian Harvey
Women residents at an upscale Yorkville condo fear a stalker is using a pass key to surreptitiously enter their homes and sexually gratify himself.
Adding to their terror, they struggled to get the building’s management to alert all residents to the danger, a Postmedia investigation into events at 35 Balmuto St. finds.
The last incident was Sept. 26, when a 19-year-old university student living with her mother was horrified to find her picture moved overnight from the living room to her bathroom where a man apparently masturbated and ejaculated into the toilet while they were out for dinner.
“This is just frightening,” says S.F., the mother, who like the other women doesn’t want her name used because of the sexual nature of the incidents. “We just feel like someone is watching us all the time now.”
After the bathroom incident was reported, Toronto Police Services directed the swank 48-storey’s property manager to email to all residents. However, that message avoided any reference to the bathroom incident directly, except to call it a “disturbing event.”
Police have since requested a second email with more specific details about the nature of the unauthorized entries but it has not been sent. Sources say police are still asking again for that stronger email to be sent.
In another incident, Sept 8, a 25-year-old woman returned home from work and was taking her coat off when a man, perhaps Hispanic, in his 20s wearing a hard hat entered her unit without knocking.
“He just looked at me and turned and then ran, slamming the door,” says J.J. “By the time I opened the door and went out he was gone, probably down the stairwell. He was as shocked and flustered as I was.”
On Aug. 17 the smoke alarm at G.A.’s unit went off and the concierge responding discovered a lighted candle had burned to the base.
“I’d left the previous Saturday for Jamaica on vacation,” she says. “No candle burns for four days and I wasn’t there. No one was in my unit. When I got back I even got a letter of reprimand from the property manager warning me not to leave candles burning. I never burn candles, this was decorative and a gift.”
G.A. and other women report they’ve returned to their units to find pillows moved or other items out of place.
“It’s really creepy and you don’t feel safe in your own home,” she says.
Another woman reports someone opened her dryer door, shutting it off in mid cycle during the night while they slept. Yet another couple reported finding their door unlocked in the morning though they’d locked it before going to sleep.
With 284 units, the Uptown Residence lives up to its name. It is steps south of Bloor and Bay Sts, with suites at 2,280 square feet to 383 square feet selling for about $860 a square foot with the larger penthouse units fetching $1.75 million. There’s 24/7 concierge and visitors parking. Maintenance fees at the five-year-old building also have doubled to .91 cents a square foot from the initial .45 cents at opening so there’s plenty of cash flow for security.
In 2014, and condo board meeting minutes show a resident raised concerns the building is “the only building in Toronto which does not have proper security.”
The minutes record: “The directors agree that the Corporation should do something. The board will obtain quotes from three or four companies and hire a security consultant to recommend solutions.”
Today residents report the installed alarms systems only work in some units and that there’s been no move to installed mag-lock systems with fob keys which can track movement and be cancelled if they are reported lost. Units have central alarm systems but many do not work, indeed, S.F.’s system only started working after the bathroom incident.
Women residents, say the property manager displayed a “complete lack of urgency” in responding to individual reports and it was only after they compared notes with neighbours and got the police involved anything changed.
Det. Constable Jeff Chahal of 52 Division says: “We are investigating. We can’t say much but we do want to get the word out and for others to come forward.”
DNA testing of samples and fingerprints from the bathroom incident are inconclusive. Crime analysts are checking see if there are similar incidents elsewhere among Toronto’s fast growing vertical communities.
Coincidentally police in east Scarborough are investigating a series of incidents in which a man breaks into homes by cutting through screens around Ellesmere Road and Morningside Aves.
In each case, the man, about six feet tall, slender and mid-to-late 20s speaks to the women he confronts. He has not assaulted or threatened the women.
The lack of timely response also concerns Linda Pinizzotto, founder and president of the Condo Owners Association (COA) says property managers usually take direction from the building’s board.
“They juggle the residents and the board,” she says. “They don’t want to lose the contract. This really is bizarre. The board and the manger have a duty to protect residents.”
The building has been undergoing renovations following severe flooding which damaged 66 units last spring. Up to 100 workmen at a time have been going in and out, say residents, and that in itself has raised security issues since there are no ID tags.
While those trades need permission to enter units for repairs, there was no tracking of master keys. While the master keys are kept in a locked box by the concierge desk at reception in a parcel room to the side, the key to that box can sometimes be seen in the lock and is accessible to anyone who jumps over the desk when the concierge is called away. While those keys are numbers and stamped as security keys not to be copied, for a price, they can be duplicated.
Since the email alert went out Sept. 29, residents say, security has improved slightly with workers signing at the back entrance and the lock box apparently more secure.
Sandro J. Zuliani, president and CEO of the property management company, Crossbridge Condominium Services, says they taking direction from the condo board.
“I cannot respond to any of the questions, except to say some of the facts around the questions you submitted are incorrect,” he said but didn’t elaborate. Crossfield, owned by mammoth property company Brookfield Asset Management (TSX: BAM.A) and the largest in Ontario with 80,000 units under management.
“We do take this seriously, we are reviewing security and looking into procedures,” he says. Condo directors, builder/developer Marco Mancini, and lawyer Steven Sokalsky did not respond to calls or emails. A third director realtor Maurice Kreitzer said only: “I have nothing to say. Talk to the property manager.”
Nothing harmless about panty-freaks
The lack of urgency in responding to the incidents is shocking to many and has legal ramifications, including Paul Amenta, Assistant Crown Attorney, at Scarborough Provincial Court.
“I don’t have all the information but from what I know the first natural suspect should be any building superintendant, custodian, janitor, grounds keeper, ‘security’ personnel if there is no forced entry,” he says. “This individual obviously has keys or tools or fobs and knows the movements of tenants.”
More seriously, he says, the behaviour will escalate as he gets emboldened.
“He will undoubtedly escalate his criminal activities until captured,” Amenta says pointing to Paul Bernardo, the Scarborough Rapist, Eli Nicholas, the so called “Scarborough Bedroom Rapist” and Col. Russell Williams, all of whom started their career sexual sadism as seemingly innocuous peepers or panty fetishists.
“The perpetrator appears to be organized but not intelligent,” he says based on his experience. “Probably early to mid 20’s, possibly mentally ill with an anti-social personality disorder. He may be a rape offender, probably carrying a knife and a rape kit will surface. I’m not trying to be alarmist but this is very serious.
He says the infamous Jane Doe case in Toronto which resulted in $220,000 award against Toronto police for not publicly alerting women to the activities of a serial rapist underlines the need for any authoritative body to react and warn residents.
There are also legal liabilities for the board and the property management company says Toronto condo lawyer Nick Poon, an associate at Gilberson and Davis LLP.
“Under the Condominium Act and Occupiers Liability Act, the condo corporation has a duty to ensure that persons are reasonably safe while in the common elements,” he says. “Since this issue is not a trivial matter, I would expect the board of directors should be involved in investigating and determining whether there are adequate security measures and/or non-compliance with the condo rules in respect to security and safety.”
Note: This story ran in the Toronto Sun Oct. 24. My first byline there since leaving 16 years earlier!
Here’s the link to that story: