What's All This About Councillors Getting Rent Breaks From Developers?
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What’s All This About Councillors Getting Rent Breaks From Developers?

The CBC says councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and David Shiner have been getting deals on rent from a developer that does business with the City.

88 Erskine Avenue. Image from Google Street View.

Earlier this morning, the CBC broke what seems likely to be the story of the week. Councillors David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) have evidently been getting rent breaks on midtown apartments owned by a developer who does a substantial amount of business with the City. Why does this matter and what might the consequences be?

Here’s what we know so far.

The Building

The property at issue is 88 Erskine Avenue, a building the CBC says is owned by Verdiroc Holdings and run by its sister company Greenwin Property Management. It’s a highrise, located about three blocks north of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue.

The building’s website lists a bunch of luxurious-sounding features: a concierge, a car-wash bay, an indoor pool. The listed rents start at $1000 per month for a bachelor apartment. A 900-square-foot two-bedroom apartment goes for $1650.

The Rent Breaks

The CBC says Shiner and Mammoliti both have apartments in the building, and have both been paying way, way below market rent for them, since 2004 and 2011, respectively.

The CBC report says the rent on Shiner’s two-bedroom suite, which comes with two parking spots, was just $630 as of last June. Mammoliti’s rent, on an apartment the CBC says cost the previous tenant over $1600 per month, is a little more than $1050.

The Problem

Greenwin and Verdiroc do business with the City—and not just occasional business. Greenwin manages a number of properties owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, and Verdiroc also develops its own properties, meaning it needs periodic approvals from the City.

The fact that Shiner and Mammoliti have evidently been getting thousands of dollars in rent breaks raises the possibility that these companies are trying to buy political influence. For any private organization that works with or for the City, political influence is almost as good as cash.

The Mitigating Factors

There can be no doubt that the whole situation looks very shady, but the CBC wasn’t able to turn up much evidence of actual wrongdoing.

Both councillors have voted in Verdiroc-Greenwin’s favour on a handful of occasions, though Mammoliti’s votes all seem to have happened in 2009, before he became an 88 Erskine tenant.

Shiner, for his part, told the CBC that he believes his rent is actually much higher than $630, but that he doesn’t know the exact figure because it’s paid automatically out of one of his bank accounts.

The Consequences

Ontario municipal politicians can lose their jobs if they vote on legislative business in which they have conflicts of interest.

There’s an argument to made that voting on things related to your awesome landlord who barely charges you any rent is a conflict of interest.

But the law is notoriously vague when it comes to defining what actually constitutes a conflict. Politicians are sometimes sued over alleged conflict-of-interest violations (Rob Ford was), but they’re very rarely convicted (Rob Ford wasn’t). It’s unclear whether Shiner and Mammoliti are in for any consequences more severe than a few days of shaming by the press.

Once again: The CBC’s story, which you should absolutely read, is here.