Fraternity and sorority housing may face significant licensing requirements changes by the end of the month. As The Varsity previously reported, the city’s Executive Committee will review whether or not to remove the multi-tenant housing licensing exemption from fraternity and sorority houses. If the change proposed by Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy is approved, then Greek houses around U of T may be shut down if they do not successfully secure a multi-tenant housing license.
Residents push for action
Cressy’s move to have the Executive Committee address the role of fraternities and sororities came on June 5, and it was supported by letters from the heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, Bay Cloverhill Community Association, Grange Community Association, Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization.
Following repeated incidents going unpunished, Sterns wrote a letter to Mayor Tory about the issue on June 15. The letter listed several cases of inappropriate conduct on behalf of the fraternity houses residing in the Annex, including a police raid confiscating over $125,000 worth of drugs in 2008, the death of a young man who fell from a window of Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2013, and the stabbing of three people outside of a frat party in 2015.
Following the 2011 decision, Sterns expressed skepticism of any more collaborative promises on behalf of fraternities and sororities, and urged the Mayor to support Cressy’s efforts to get rid of the licensing exemption.
The Executive Committee will address the situation on September 26; executives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union are expected to speak.
Greeks dodge licensing in 2011
Former Ward 20 City Councillor Adam Vaughan advocated for the removal of fraternity and sorority houses’ licensing exemption back in 2011 for reasons similar to Cressy’s. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at 4 o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?” Vaughan told the National Post in 2011. “Find a way to help us help you grow up.”
There were certain obstacles that Vaughan faced in accomplishing this task, though, laid out in the staff report requested by the Licensing and Standards Committee at the time.
Specifically, there were two hindrances that kept the committee from bringing forward a licensing proposal. The first was that, according to the staff report, the city “does not have the authority to license people or organizations purely on the basis of their affiliation,” meaning that since a fraternity or sorority does not fall specifically under one classification, it is difficult to define how it should be licensed.
The second reason was that licenses cannot limit the behaviour of tenants. While a license would require the building to be fully up to code, issues that may arise related to behaviour would not be regulated.
Vaughan met representatives of the fraternities and sororities at the time and attempted to establish a collaborative system, as recommended in the staff report, resulting in the Joint Working Group meant to address neighborhood complaints. The working group took the approach of allowing fraternity and sorority houses to rely upon their organizations for regulation and enforcement, as fraternities and sororities have rules for any affiliated chapters. Despite this, complaints continue to be filed to the Annex Residents’ Association, and residents say they have had a hard time getting in touch with anyone of influence in the fraternity community.
Concerned residents speak to The Varsity
Permanent residents of the Annex — the neighbourhood home to many of the Greek life houses in Toronto — have expressed concerns about noise pollution, littering, and general disturbances coming from fraternities much more so than sororities.
David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, said that they “get a steady stream of complaints from neighbours of the Fraternities. There are three or four frequent offenders. The Sororities are generally much better behaved.”
Rita Bilerman, a resident of the Annex for 11 years, said she has had multiple experiences dealing with fraternities. Bilerman alleged there have been “numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” attributed to fraternities in the time she’s lived in the Annex. She said she is concerned that if the houses are allowed to continue on as they are, there is the potential for real tragedy. She recounted stories of fraternity members sitting atop the roofs of houses, daring each other to run naked past oncoming traffic, and passing out on her front yard.
In addition, Bilerman has kids — the oldest of which is a high school student. She said that fraternity houses in the area have invited her son to parties, and, according to Bilerman, plenty of high school students attend these parties, some of which she claimed serves alcohol to minors.
Mayor Tory’s office is refraining from commenting on the issue until the full staff report is completed.
The Inter-Fraternity Council, a representative body of 10 fraternities around U of T, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.
Data compiled by Tom Yun