Toronto City Council voted on May 23 to regulate fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant housing facilities. With previous exemptions lifted, Greek life housing will now require licensing to accommodate its residents.
Effective immediately, fraternities and sororities will have to register an official contact with the city, renew their licences annually, develop a fire plan, and undergo a fire inspection to ensure that their buildings are up to property standards set by the city.
According to Councillor Joe Cressy, the licensing framework is meant to improve safety at fraternities and sororities, and is supported by the majority of the City Council, U of T, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, Toronto Fire Services, and local residents of the Annex. Cressy represents Ward 20, in which the St. George campus is located.
“It was long overdue,” Cressy told The Varsity. “I can’t understand why we would treat [fraternities] any differently than every other multi-tenant housing facility in the city.” He further stated that prior to the vote, fraternities and sororities were neither regulated by the city nor the university, which placed them in a “legal grey area.”
In June 2017, Cressy submitted a letter to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee calling for the regulation of fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant housing facilities. In April 2018, the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee released a report listing possible solutions, one of which was the regulation of Greek life housing through annual reporting.
Cressy said that although licensing is “not a silver bullet,” and cannot regulate the behaviour of fraternities and sororities, non-compliance with the policies will lead to stricter conditions. “If you don’t play by the rules… there are consequences,” he said. Breaking the rules consistently may result in the licence being revoked.
According to the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee’s report, there were 78 incidents reported to the Toronto Police at or near fraternity or sorority houses between January 2014 and March 2018. Of these incidents, 12 per cent were related to sexual assault, and 62 per cent to thefts under $5,000.
“We are delighted the Council has agreed to impose full licensing and remove the rooming house exemption from the fraternities,” said David Harrison, Chair of the Annex Residents’ Association. He hopes that general behaviour and property maintenance will improve. Harrison added that “fraternities that operate in a civil manner” should have no problems with licensing, but for those “that are chronically, socially inept the challenge may be greater.”
Harrison also mentioned the recent death of Naiqi Helen Guo, an 18-year-old student at UTSC, in what is thought to be a violation of the Ontario fire code as evidence that proper regulation of rooming houses is crucial. “Clearly, parents of students and the students themselves should embrace licensing as it will better ensure safer residences.”
The Interfraternity Council, Phi Delta Theta, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Delta Upsilon declined to respond to requests for comment. Phi Delta Theta, Lamda Chi Alpha, Theta Delta Chi, and Zeta Psi did not respond to requests for comment.