On June 5, City Councillor Joe Cressy published a letter addressed to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20, which includes the majority of the UTSG campus, where Greek life is most salient in Toronto.

The committee made the decision to review the feasibility of the status change back in June — from there, city staff will publish a report on Toronto’s multi-tenant houses and recommendations for potential changes, which will be voted on by City Council in late September.

Regulating the houses being used by fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant houses may come with strict regulations related to property maintenance, waste management, parking, and written confirmation of the maximum number of tenants. This comes on the back of support for Cressy’s letter from housing associations in the Annex, Bay Cloverhill, Grange, Harbord Village, and Huron Sussex neighborhoods. All have had issues with the behaviour of tenants and visitors to these houses, as well as the amount of garbage that they produce. The vote to re-classify Greek houses as multi-tenant houses will come as the city is completing its review of these types of dwellings and strengthening requirements to ensure the health and safety of tenants and mitigate neighbourhood impacts. If the city successfully re-zones fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant houses, they will likely have to apply for a license to operate as such. If they are denied this licence, Greek life around U of T may find itself forced out of traditional real estate.

A matter of safety and civility

“Frankly this is just a straightforward move to ensure that all multi-tenant houses including fraternities and sororities are safe,” Cressy said in an interview with The Varsity. “I don’t see why anybody should see this as something objectionable.”

Several housing associations submitted statements of support for Cressy’s efforts, citing complaints they’ve received from members in their community about the actions of fraternity houses. “Every few years the concerns about the offending Frats boils over and municipal attention increases and the offending Frats promise to do better,” David Harrison, Chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, wrote in an email to The Varsity. “The promises always fade. And, every year brings a new crop of students who need to be taught manners and civilized behaviour.”

The Annex is home to many of the fraternity and sorority houses in Toronto. Harrison adds that parents of students who live in fraternity and sorority housing usually assume that the houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but this is not the case. “Actually, the UofT wants no role in the supervision of these establishments,” wrote Harrison.

University distances itself from Greek life

Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost of Students at U of T, also submitted a letter to the Executive Committee, clarifying the university’s relationship with surrounding fraternities and sororities. According to the letter, the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups. This is “consistent now with our policy on recognized campus groups — that primarily the reason they’re not recognized is because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at U of T, in an interview with The Varsity.

U of T hasn’t had any affiliation with fraternities and sororities since the 1960s. Blackburn-Evans explained that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fraternities and sororities were acknowledged as part of university life. “[But] for quite a few decades now, they haven’t been recognized by the university. So we don’t have any relationship with them,” she said.

Greek houses are legally exempt from Toronto housing regulations that would otherwise govern the buildings as multi-tenant houses. These regulations include the requirement of holding a housing licence. A housing licence ensures that the building is up to fire code standards and fulfills the requirements of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Due to the nature of Greek housing’s exemption, there is no guarantee that these general requirements are being met.

“Licensing these houses not only provides the City with a mechanism to effectively respond to these concerns, but also entitles those who live in the houses a guarantee that their living environments meet building code and safety standard requirements,” wrote Cressy in his letter to the Executive Committee. “It can also provide the city with a mechanism to deal with houses that are chronically unsafe, for both residents and visitors, and those with demonstrated issues related to problematic behaviour.”

Cressy highlights some aspects of what he calls “problematic behaviour” as being mostly tied to fraternities. Alongside “garbage, extreme noise, and property standards violations,” he identifies the increase of sexual assaults at fraternities, “incidents that often, due to the stigma faced by survivors, can go unreported and unsolved,” as being a key problem with the current system.

Student groups respond

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union have voiced their support of Cressy’s efforts, expressing concern for the students’ safety.

Anne Boucher, Vice-President External of the UTSU, explained that while fraternities and sororities are not affiliated with the university, “[because] many of them are mostly made up of U of T students, and many of our students frequent them, we need to ensure that action is taken to ensure these places are safe.” Boucher did note that aspects of Greek life “can be valuable spaces for our students’ personal development,” but she said the union “cannot ignore the sexual violence and problematic behaviors that have repeatedly manifested in these spaces.”

An advisor to the Panhellenic Sororities Society explained that there are self-enforced regulations in its sororities, telling The Varsity that “each house is individually operated by their International headquarters, and follow guidelines, rules and standards specific to their organizations.” They went on to explain that, to their knowledge, no one from the city has reached out to the society on this issue, but that they would welcome a collaborative opportunity.

Sam Jenison, President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, said that the council acknowledges the changes but cannot provide further comment at this time.

A review of fraternity and sorority housing status is underway, and an official vote on the matter is scheduled to follow in September.