'I'm going to do whatever it takes to stay in my home,' says man fighting Toronto islands act

TORONTO — A man on the verge of losing his longtime family home on one of Toronto's islands says he plans to try and get provincial legislation changed to allow family members to leave such properties to people other than spouses or children.

Don Sampson said his brother Bruce left him the island home his family has occupied for decades after he died of cancer in May 2017.

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But under an unusual set of rules established by the province, Sampson said he's unable to assume ownership of the house located on Toronto's Algonquin Island. Those rules, laid out in a provincial statute that's been in place for the past 25 years, state that specific houses on the island can only be transferred to a spouse or child.

Sampson said the legislation — the Toronto Islands Residential Community Stewardship Act — was nonsensical and should be updated.

"I'm not leaving my home, and I will do whatever it takes to keep this house in my family," Sampson said in a telephone interview. "My fight is going to the end."

The act came about after a lengthy battle between island residents and the City of Toronto, according to both Sampson and the entity that now controls much of the property in the area.

When the city began converting swaths of the islands into park land beginning in the 1960s, community members began campaigning to preserve their houses and retain some control over the areas where their homes stood.

A roughly three-decade-long campaign ensued, eventually culminating in the provincial legislation that's loomed large in the community since it was enacted in 1993.

Under the terms of the act, the province and city swapped parcels of land with Ontario assuming control of specific portions of the islands. The act established a new entity to handle all matters related to the relevant parcels of lands and the 262 homes that stood on them.

That entity, the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust Corp, oversees all leases and sales pertaining to the homes on Wards and Algonquin islands, according to trust chair Lorraine Filyer.

Filyer said that while homeowners maintain ownership of the physical houses that sit on island land, the land itself is leased to them and controlled by the trust.

"It was a matter of trying to look after the public interest and the private interest of homeowners," she said.

The act states that all home sales and purchases must be managed through the trust, with prices for the houses tightly regulated. Houses are generally sold for between $50,000 and $600,000, according to the trust's website, which adds purchasers also acquire the lease for the land the home is built on. Filyer said the arrangement is in place to prevent residents from making "windfall profits" off land that is still considered public.

The act also requires the trust to maintain a waiting list of people interested in acquiring a home on the rare occasions when one comes on the market. The list is capped at 500 people, and the trust website said just 66 homes have been sold since 1994.

Sampson said the trust is trying to make his house number 67, and that the legislation allows it to do so based on a specific provision. He said the house is currently in the name of his late brother, who died without a spouse or children and left the family home to Don in his will.

This flouts the rules established by the act, which says owners are barred from transferring ownership of the house to anyone but the trust — noting just two exceptions — the owner's spouse or child. The legislation does not contain language permitting transfers to other blood relatives.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing did not answer questions as to why this rule is in place.

"The act aims to balance the interests of residents on the islands with the need to be transparent to those on the purchasers' list who would like to live on the Islands," Conrad Spezowka said in a statement.

A letter to Sampson's former lawyer indicated the trust first approached him about selling the family home last May, but held off at his request.

"The trust now intends to proceed early in 2019 with or without your client's co-operation," reads the letter dated Dec. 20 in which the trust requests the keys to the home in order to perform an inspection. "If the keys are not received on or before January 7, 2019, the trust will forcibly enter and change the locks. The trust will also arrange for all chattels to be removed."

As of Wednesday, Sampson said he had not yet heard from the trust and was still living at the home.

Filyer said she could not comment on the details of Sampson's case due to provincial privacy laws. She said that while she feels for the Sampson family, the trust has little choice in the matter.

"The trust board is mandated to ensure that the legislation is followed," she said. "That's our job."

Sampson said he's aware that his public opposition to the trust has caused some ill will on the island, but said that does not change his view that the act is outdated and needs to be updated to allow more latitude for homeowners to leave their properties to other family members.

"People are accusing me of dividing the island," he said. "I told them I'm going to do whatever it takes to stay in my home."

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