Adam Bisby, Special to National Post
From a distance, the 2Fifteen construction site resembles that of any high-rise condo project in the city. But a closer inspection reveals a key difference. Atop the hoardings, a newly installed banner announces “luxury rentals.”
Slated for occupancy in 2022, the 20-storey tower at Lonsdale and Avenue Road will be “the first purpose-built luxury rental building to open in Toronto in a long time,” according to Bryan Levy, CEO of DBS Developments, the firm developing the 129-suite property, and CFO of the Preston Group, which will manage it once renters move in.
The apparent lull in high-end rentals has been driven by the enduring Canadian perception that leasing is a low-income alternative to condo ownership, Levy says. “It’s a shame that there’s this negative stigma around renting. If you go to major gateway markets in the U.S. and Europe — in Paris, New York and L.A. — it’s very normal for wealthy people to rent, and there’s no loss of status in being a renter versus an owner. So we’re working to change the perception here.”
Other developers are doing likewise, launching new purpose-built rental projects that strive to emulate the opulence of private residences in Toronto hotels such as the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Shangri-La, where absent owners typically lease their units through in-house property managers or third-party agents.
The Waverley, for instance, “feels very much like a luxury hotel,” says Adrian Rocca, CEO of Toronto-based Fitzrovia Real Estate. The 15-storey rental tower on Spadina Avenue just north of College Street offers hotel-like amenities including a rooftop infinity pool and terrace, 24-hour concierge and free high-speed Wi-Fi, plus an onsite café, a wine bar and juice shop.
Unlike a hotel, but very much like 2Fifteen, other Waverley amenities are geared towards multi-month occupancy. There’s a yoga and spin studio, co-working space, screening room, pet spa, bicycle repair station, secured underground bike storage, electric car charging stations and exclusive access to an on-site BMW X1. Outdoors, residents can lounge on the BBQ-equipped terrace.
The building’s 166 suites, meanwhile, range from studios to three bedrooms and include full-size washer-dryers, wine refrigerators and stainless-steel appliances. Rents run between $2,000 and $5,000 per month, give or take.
The amenities package at 2Fifteen is similarly enhanced. As well as a 24-hour concierge, there will be a resident manager and porter, a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace in the lobby, a party room with chef’s kitchen, dining and seating areas, spa facilities, and a 17th-floor rooftop terrace with lounge seating, fire pits and views of downtown that Levy says “will blow people away.”
The one-, two- and three-bedroom suites have custom millwork, walk-in closets, wide-plank European-engineered hardwood floors, Caesarstone quartz countertops and frameless glass showers. Additional features and finishes will be available for viewing when 2Fifteen’s on-site leasing office opens in September with a pair of model suites.
Much of the project’s success will depend on enticing locals who are looking to downsize from large homes and move into a luxury building that lacks the complications of condo ownership, Levy says. “They can sell their house, put a few million dollars in the bank, write us a first and last months’ rent deposit cheque for $20,000, move into something that is more luxurious than what they left behind and still have plenty left over to travel, dine, shop, hit the town and so on.”
Set near Kensington Market and the University of Toronto, the Waverley is geared toward a younger crowd, Rocca says. “Our social programming is extensive. We have two to three events per week — movie nights, food trucks, going to a Blue Jays game. We really invest in creating a sense of community that you would never see on the condo side.”
As different as the properties and their occupants may be, Levy and Rocca both say service is theirbiggest differentiator. Like DBS/Preston, Fitzrovia manages its 10 GTA properties, which ensures that “property management is second to none,” as Rocca puts it. “The condo business model sells a developer’s vision, which gets handed over to investors or owner-occupiers after however many years. Whereas for us, we’re selling our rental units every single day. So the customer experience has to be exceptional.”
Still, purpose-built rentals have a long way to go to match the likes of the Four Seasons and the Shangri-La, says Nathaniel Hartree-Hallifax, a Strata.ca real-estate agent who caters to an affluent clientele. “There’s true luxury and then there’s upper-middle-class luxury,” he says. The former “has private elevators, doormen and 2,000-square-foot dining rooms in the sky. If every person with a decent credit rating and a decent job can rent a quote-unquote luxury property, then it isn’t really a luxury property. That’s simply marketing.”
That’s not to say purpose-built rentals like 2Fifteen and the Waverley won’t find their niche, Hartree-Hallifax says. “The people renting these places will be looking to be pampered but lack the financial incentive to purchase property in Toronto for what could be a relatively short period of time.”
As another 2Fifteen banner reads, “A piece of Forest Hill, for as long as you like.”