Condo boards need to start taking bike theft seriously

It never occurred to her that her bike would be vulnerable – the locker is in a storage room on the lowest parking level and requires a key to enter. But the culprits not only cut the combination lock, they cut the cage itself.

“Almost anyone you talk to in Toronto has a story about a bike theft,” she says.

Bike theft is a major problem, but for the first time since Toronto police began collecting data, the number of bikes stolen from apartments, condos and their private storage rooms has surpassed those stolen on the street. Liz Sutherland, director of advocacy and government relations for cycling advocacy group, Cycle Toronto, says both condo management, apartment landlords and police need to start taking the problem more seriously.

“It’s a multi-million-dollar problem.”

While condos and apartments are required by city zoning bylaws to provide tenants with a certain number of long-term bicycle parking spaces, it’s not clear whether this is enforced. In fact, many buildings ban the storage of bicycles in units or balconies, leaving cyclists to lock up on the street and thus vulnerable to theft.

Biking is a primary form of transportation for a growing number of people who live in the core – a reality many condo boards fail to acknowledge. When theft occurs from common bike parking areas, cyclists are left with little recourse.

McCoskey reported the incident to condo management, who in turn told her to go to police. She never did – something you can’t really blame her for in a city where only one per cent of bicycles are recovered.

Her condo board also asked her to buy a chain to close the locker until it could be fixed. A month later, the building put a chain-link fence around the bike racks in the parking garage in a different area from where McCoskey’s bike was locked up.

But that’s cold comfort for McCoskey.

While there are many reasons why people steal bikes, some media reports suggest organized crime is profiting from resale value (not hard to believe when the average entry-level road bike will set you back around $1,000).

Aidan Mee’s bike was stolen out of his friend’s building in King West Village last winter. While Mee feels condos do what they can to prevent theft, given that it’s almost impossible to stop non-residents from “tailgating” (following residents or visitors into a parking garage or main entrance), he says more needs to be done after the fact.

“If the laws on bike theft aren’t strictly enforced, then people are going to keep stealing,” he says.

Cycle Toronto supports creating a police task force dedicated to bike theft. Sutherland suggests a system similar to Vancouver’s registry and recovery program Project 529, which also uses “bait bikes” in high-theft locations to deter thieves.

So far, Vancouver has seen a 30-35 per cent decrease in bike theft thanks to the project, which has also been rolled out in U.S. cities such as Portland and San Francisco.

A simpler solution might be to allow residents to store bikes in their units or balconies. Although condo management could be found in violation of the Condominium Act for not allowing residents to store bicycles in their units, boards are finding wiggle room in rules, says Patrick Brown, partner at Toronto law firm McLeish Orlando, and founder of Bike Law Canada, a network of attorneys specializing in cycling laws.

But condo boards must also ensure rules prevent unreasonable interference of “common elements” – i.e., lobbies, balconies and elevators, says Brown. And therein lies the rub: condo boards argue people are interfering with common spaces by bringing in bikes that inconvenience others by blocking hallways, spoiling property values with balcony clutter, tracking in dirt or crowding the elevator.

But, as Brown points out, someone could fight condo management by persuading a majority of owners in the building to agree to change the rules that prohibit bikes.

However, this route takes time and effort and puts the onus for the security of the building on residents. Instead, Sutherland and Brown agree solutions should involve police, condo owners and building managers working together.

“Sadly, that’s not what we’re seeing,” says Sutherland.

While bike parking varies from building to building, Alterra’s 159SW condo at Wellesley and Sherbourne will have more parking spaces for bikes than cars (one bike space per unit) and is even considering providing pumps, tools and workbenches in the future.

Development executive Christopher Alexander, says it’s not uncommon for developers to weave personal passions into projects, citing one developer who loves dogs and included a dog park on the grounds.

Until buildings are built with cyclists in mind, Alexander suggests cyclists looking to purchase ask a lot of questions about condo security.

“Some things they should consider are ‘Where is the bike lock-up? Is it secured? Is it indoors or outdoors? Are you allowed to store bikes on your balcony?’” says Alexander. “Also make sure there are security cameras where bike lock-up is.”

Sutherland suggests residents can do something that contradicts Canadians’ notoriously polite nature – shut the door in the face of a stranger who haven’t buzzed to get in your condo first. Or ask to see a parking pass when a non-resident is in the garage. | @nowtoronto

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