I'm shaking in my boots as a giant cockroach scuttles by.
He's not your run-of-the-mill house roach, but a towering 6-foot-tall rare breed from Madagascar. He resembles Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, with tinsel antennae.
He tells a gathering of about 25 people outside this circa-1950 apartment building at King and Dufferin that he's ditched the glitz and glam of the Big Apple to reside in Parkdale.
This cockroach is accepting this year's Golden Cockroach Award, presented by the Parkdale Tenants Association (PTA) to S. Tobis Investments, the owners of apartment buildings at 40 and 60 Tyndall Avenue.
According to the PTA, the Tyndall apartments are among the worst kept in all of Parkdale, if not the city. City audits seem to back the claim - Tobis was cited for 31 building code violations last January alone at 40 Tyndall, everything from walls and ceilings not being maintained to a dirty ventilation system. As recently as October 19, the city reported a defunct heating system.
The conditions aren't much better next door at 60 Tyndall. There, the landlord was cited for 15 violations during an audit last August, including the fact that the building was too easy to break into, faulty electrical wiring and sinks that weren't working properly.
Joe Luzi, the south district manager of municipal licensing and standards, tells me this week that more violations are currently being filed against 40 Tyndall, and the city will take S. Tobis Investments to court in the coming weeks for non-compliance to orders to make repairs at number 60.
"My staff is in the process of preparing a number of charges," he says.
But the amount of time it's actually taking for the city to make these homes livable is a shocker. The culprit seems to be a holdup in the plan to licence and inspect rental properties - a situation that is exasperating tenant leaders.
According to PTA spokesperson Bart Poesiat, the city has been "weaselling out of its obligations and promises" to tenants. "Tenants who live in slum buildings in Parkdale or Regent Park have no clout at City Hall," he says.
Many residents find cockroaches and mice scattering at the flick of a light switch, plaster falling off the walls and ceilings, cracked counters, old appliances and plumbing problems. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
It isn't easy getting past a very pissed-off and not afraid to show it blockade named Tammy, the superintendent of 40 Tyndall, who refuses to be further identified, when I arrive to scope the situation. It's quite clear she doesn't want any kind of publicity about her building.
Regardless, I arrive at a fourth-floor apartment. Inside, I'm greeted by a tropical wave coming from the oven door that's been left open to heat the place. A woman and her two small children share this one-bedroom for $750.
The door to the baby's bedroom is completely off its hinges, and the wooden floor tiles are buckling to form sharp edges dangerous to bare feet. Tiles are loose everywhere in the apartment.
The bathroom has a dripping No Frills bag taped to the ceiling, where a big leak has continuously flooded the place since the woman moved in five months ago. She says she's complained many times, but the landlord won't do anything.
"They haven't fixed a thing since I got here." She sent a letter to the city, she says, but has received no response.
In addition to the two Tyndall towers, where rents start at $600 for one-bedroom units, S. Tobis Investments owns four other properties in the city.
The supervisor at the Tyndall apartments, Joyce Bogoros, says being dubbed the worst landlord in Parkdale is "really unfair" and that she has tried to address tenant concerns.
"Half the time, as they're going out the door you ask them to show you what's wrong, and they say they can't. Then you knock at the door and they don't let you in.
"We're constantly doing work and the tenants are constantly causing damage themselves," she says. "They wait until everything breaks until they tell you it's been like that for five months."
Back in January, the city's planning and transportation committee approved a plan to license rental buildings to ensure units are kept up to Toronto Municipal Code standards. This would mean frequent building inspections without waiting for complaints to come in. City inspectors would also be able to scrutinize apartments without the permission of tenants, which they can't do right now.
But Frank Weinstock, manager of municipal licensing and standards, says they're still waiting for the green light from the province.
In the meantime, the city could simply license landlords without waiting for government approval, but Weinstock says they're "waiting for the changes (by the province) in the spring, because it's a more direct way of getting at the buildings."
In the end, Poesiat suspects the city might not have the money to back up its promises.
As part of its new inspection plan, the city has also authorized $357,000 for a public disclosure Web site that would work much like the DineSafe restaurant program, where people can enter an address and view a list showing a two-year history of work orders against landlords. But there's a downside to this: every building starts with a clean slate, since there is no current database.
"It seems like they had a heck of a time just allocating some money for the Web site," says Poesiat. "The landlord lobby was saying how they needed more time to consult with condo and homeowners. It's clearly a stalling scheme, and some councillors are working with the powerful landlord lobby."
Area Councillor Sylvia Watson insists the city has taken significant steps to ensure that buildings are up to code. "Work has been undertaken by the city to enforce its standards already," she says, "but if the landlord of the building isn't cooperative, it sometimes takes longer than you may think to have repairs done." She also maintains that tenants haven't been calling her office to register their grievances.
Poesiat says there's a good reason: in many cases they're from low-income families, seniors, students or immigrants who barely speak English. They're afraid to speak out.
"People's fear is palpable," he says. "On one hand, they're very bitter, but they're afraid of getting evicted" if they complain.
Dan McIntyre, program coordinator at the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, says what's really needed is changes to the Tenant Protection Act.
But until the city gets its legislation solidified, which could be well after the snow melts, repairs could take a while.