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Mad House: Madison dweller alleges harassment over heritage home

November 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

The heritage property at 145 Madison Ave. Matt James/Gleaner News

By Eddie Mumford

‘Majestic’ would be a word to describe the house at 145 Madison Ave. With its uniformity of smooth brick and irregular shape, the massive, detached home stands out amongst the neighbouring houses. But the house, declared a historical site (under the Heritage Act) in 1974, has recently become a source of anxiety for its owner.

Richard Kruk recently contacted the Gleaner concerning an inspection that took place at his mother’s residence on Madison Avenue. “[They said we have] ten people living here,” said Anne Kruk, nearly laughing.

Richard explained that these “ten people” were simply a few family members that had stayed for a short visit. “It’s like we’re being watched,” he said, speculating about the short time between the family visit and the municipal inspection.

Richard and Anne were fearful that their home was being targeted with complaints made to the city asking inspectors to determine whether the home was in fact a rooming house or a single family dwelling. Both mother and son said that it’s like someone is trying to intimidate and exhaust them to the point where their home of more than half-a-century is too much of a burden.

According to Elizabeth Glibbery, manager of the East York Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) division, the complainant cannot be named, but the Kruks have established their own theory, connecting this inspection with troubles from the recent past.

The trouble, it seems, may have risen first from a dispute in August 2007. It was then that Anne alleges a Mr. Irving Garten, with his wife Vivian and son Joel entered her home, with the intention to buy it from her. “[At first] they were real friendly,” said Anne, recalling the day they asked to come inside. “He came on the Thursday, when I had friends coming over, inquiring about the house.”

“They followed her into the kitchen,” continued Richard, “but my mother was preparing for guests, so they said they’d come back on Saturday… [On Saturday] they showed up late, all three of them again. They made her walk through the house before they sat around her kitchen table; he was sitting where my dad sat and then they got her three-on-one.”

It was on that visit that Mr. Garten allegedly told Anne to sign a purchase and sale agreement for the house. “They wouldn’t leave until I signed,” said Anne, “I told them, ‘No, I’m too tired to sign now, I can’t even read my own writing,’ but he said ‘Sit down and sign it.’”

Currently both parties are in litigation over the contract signed that day by Anne; the Kruks are contesting the contracts legitimacy, while Garten is suing over its breach.

“My lawsuit was brought to enforce a contract,” Garten said in a written statement, adding that, “because this lawsuit continues to be pending in the courts, neither party should be commenting about this for a newspaper.”

In an affidavit sent to the Gleaner, Garten builds a very different frame of reference from the Kruks. In the document, Garten insists that he “did not take advantage of Mrs. Kruk,” and that a selling price of $1.5 million had been agreed upon before the final visit. “Mrs. Kruk invited us into her house twice. She wanted to sell. A deal was struck. A contract document was signed. It sets out accurately what we agreed on. It is not ambiguous,” stated Garten in his sworn record before the courts.

Garten’s document continues to say that Mrs. Kruk said she planned to move into 143 Madison Ave., the smaller, neighbouring house, of which she is also the owner.

Also gleaned from this testimony were Garten’s intentions for the house as “both a close-by home for [his] children and a ‘canvass’—a rare and expensive one—for [him] to engage in the Victorian era house restoration work that [he is] passionate about.”

But Anne, who is now 88 years old, alleges that there was no intention to sell and that the price was never agreed upon or finalized. “He sat here and said ‘What will you be asking for the house?’ and I said ‘A good two million,’ and he said ‘That’s too much’… I thought we were just talking, I never expected him to come and buy the house like that … As soon as they got up from the table I had a heavy chest; I knew I did wrong, but it was signed.” When asked if she currently has any aspirations to sell her house, Anne answered that she’s not even sure that she has a house anymore. “I don’t really know where I stand with it,” she said.

The Kruks accordingly believe that it is through the will of Garten that the municipal complaint and subsequent inspection occurred. “The visit was the result of a complaint made to Metro Licensing and, according to the inspector, was not from Garten,” said Richard, recalling a conversation between himself and the inspector. Richard is mainly suspicious because of Garten’s holdings and influence in the world of real estate as a developer and as Garten notes in his affidavit “historical preservationist.” Numerous messages left with MLS Inspector Alistair McCrae were met with no response.

When asked if the city will be taking a closer look at whether city-resources have been exploited, Glibbery responded that no action will be taken at this time. “Not unless someone is alleging harassment, [however], we wouldn’t be initiating a review of that [per se ITAL]; those complaints usually go through the auditor general’s office, or something of that nature.” Glibbery added that the inspection found the house to be a single family unit and, as the complaint suggested, not a rooming house.

The house itself, cited by city council for its exceptional architecture, is undeniably special. It stands as one of the defining houses on Madison Avenue, the whole of which may soon be charted under the Heritage act as a conservation district. While this allows for the protection of the property, this protection does not extend to the occupants.

Time and the judicial system will be finishing this story, while the house, hopefully, still stands majestically.

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