Questions arisen over whether he’s paying enough for campaign office
Some say yes, others say no
(Written for Town Crier Sept. 9)
Questions are being raised about the price and location of Ward 22 council candidate Chris Sellors’campaign headquarters.
Sellors opened his office Sept. 1 at 1973 Yonge St., signing what the Town Crier has learned is a two-month lease agreement totaling $3,616 ($1,500 in rent plus $100 in utilities each month, plus HST) for the 1,100 square feet of space.
The 102-square metre vacant storefront, formerly Vittorio’s Restaurant, is now part of a recently approved residential redevelopment by property owners Kilbarry Holding Corp. Sellors worked on this development file as Councillor Michael Walker’s executive assistant but said he’s had nothing to do with the project since March.
A source close to Sellors campaign raised questions about the lease to theTown Crier and spoke to the paper on the condition of anonymity.
“It seems like an unusual agreement you wouldn’t see in the industry, which makes me question how it came to be,” the source said in a Sept. 5 interview.
Price matters in elections as the difference between market value and price paid is considered a campaign donation and corporations are no longer allowed to donate to municipal candidates in Toronto.
Sellors has repeatedly refused to disclose the amount he’s paying for the property. He is not legally required to disclose his election finances until next March.
“You are dealing with hearsay,” said Sellors. “You heard $1,250 (the price the Town Crier was originally told Sellors was offered to lease space). Now you have heard $1,500. And now you’ve heard it’s about half price (of market value). Who’s telling you this? Josh (Matlow) because he’s phoning people saying ‘I can’t get any space less than $4,000 or less than $3,000.’ ”
Sellors said he’s confident he is indeed paying market rent and has done his due diligence to ensure that is the case.
“(We) talk to people in the industry and ask them. People in the industry who know this commercial strip and know the building and we asked them,” said Sellors.
Biddington Property Management, which is leasing 1973 Yonge St. on behalf of the owner Kilbarry Holdings Corp, would not disclose the leasing price.
“(Price) is negotiated with the tenant,” said Renato Rebelo, commercial property manager for Biddington. “Market rent is from comparables and location and the property in particular. It’s not the same for different locations. I can’t give any information on our tenants’ (prices).”
The Town Crier spoke to more than half a dozen leasing agents doing business on Yonge Street between Eglinton and Davisville Avenues and all of them without exception stated the price the Town Crier’s has been told Sellors is paying is half normal market value.
However, each agent cautioned this is a redevelopment site, which makes it almost impossible to determine market value for this location.
Paul Lebo a broker with Esbin Realty Corp said the fact it’s a redevelopment site shouldn’t matter unless it looks like a “hurricane hit it”.
“For short term scenarios some people pay a premium and some pay less. But for 1,100 square feet at $1,500 that’s $18 a square foot gross on that section of Yonge Street it (should be) more like double that,” he said.
Stuart Smith with CB Richard Ellis disagreed.
“These temporary things are done on whim more than anything else. (The price quoted is) a fair market price for a temporary location.”
Smith’s CB Richard Ellis colleague Alex Edmison concurred.
“It’s really tough for a temporary space, market rent is not the same as another location … Just having a tenant in there is a good thing.”
Part of what determines price also depends on whether it’s considered office space at $20-30 square foot or retail at $30-40 a square foot. Most leasing agents the Town Crier spoke to considered this storefront property to be retail space.
Chris Fyvie with Colliers International added, “Office rates are $28 a square foot and retail rates are closer to $40. This is a unique opportunity and shouldn’t be considered either or.”
Another agent with Colliers who would only speak off the record said the price of $1,500 a month for the Yonge Street space is cheap.
“The answer to this is there’s nothing called market (rent) for a deal like this,” said the agent. “It’s money the landlord wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
According to Toronto’s director of Election Services it is up to the candidate to determine if a good or service they purchase during the captain is at market value.
“How they determine that is up to them,” said Bonita Pietrangelo adding that if there is a request for a compliance audit in March an outside auditor or judge would then decide if market value was indeed paid.
Sellors is certain that he’s done nothing wrong and said that he’s well versed in election campaign finance rules having worked on the issue for years in Walker’s office.
“It’s not like I’m navigating in a realm that I have no idea what the rules are,” said Sellors. “Of all the candidates, I know what the rules are.”
Ultimately, he accused his opponents are trying to make this an election issue.
“Why don’t they come at me on policy. They are weak on policy. They haven’t gotten a campaign office. So they are trying to tear me down in ways that are playing on people’s suspicions,” said Sellors Sept. 8.
Matlow retorted, “I think this election should be about issues important to the community. Each candidate should run an ethical and transparent campaign.”