After a six-year battle that included appeals to the courts, the Ontario Municipal Board and even the United Nations, an elderly Brunswick Ave. couple will probably now be forced to demolish a two-storey backyard addition built without a permit.
A committee-of-adjustment panel voted Wednesday to reject the couple’s last-ditch plea to retroactively legalize the $80,000 structure. It was unswayed by renowned lawyer Clayton Ruby, who argued that dismissing the request would amount to discrimination against the disabled — and noted that other members of 70-year-old Yang Tseng’s family have committed suicide.
“No justice,” Shih Tseng, her 76-year-old husband, said in an interview after the decision. “My lawyer mentioned my wife’s family had suicide history. They don’t care. They don’t care. They totally disregard our health.”
Councillor Adam Vaughan, who opposed the addition along with a group of local residents, said Ruby’s human rights arguments were irrelevant to the question at hand.
“This is not a human rights issue. It’s a planning issue. The addition was too big, and it was built without permission,” Vaughan said in an interview.
“It’s unfortunate. But the lesson here is a very clear one: Do not build without permission, because there are consequences. And the consequences become very expensive if you choose to fight rather than cooperate.”
Rory “Gus” Sinclair, a former Harbord Village Residents’ Association president who spoke against the proposal, said the Tsengs are now supposed to have 30 days to demolish the addition. A city spokesperson was not able to confirm.
The property is owned by the couple’s daughter, lawyer Pauline Tseng, who was heavily involved in the legal battle. As of last spring, when Torstar News Service first wrote about the case, the family had spent more than $200,000 on lawyers and other professionals in an attempt to save the addition.
The Tsengs’ two other children bought them the home near Kensington Market for $718,000 in 2006. They soon tore down the existing addition, a rotting wooden structure, and hired a contractor to build a new brick addition of about half a metre longer.
They did not get a permit. And their addition extended about 10 metres farther than allowed under today’s rules.
“At that time, we don’t know permits. When we found out, we tried,” Shih Tseng said.
Ruby cited a psychiatrist’s belief that Yang Tseng’s “significant psychiatric disorder” is directly attributable to the battle over her home and that demolishing the addition would cause an “adverse and serious impact” on her health.
Both Yang Tseng and Shih Tseng have been diagnosed with depression. Shih Tseng said he has heart problems and has had two strokes; Yang Tseng suffers from osteoporosis, anxiety, sleep apnea, and a Parkinson’s-like brain disorder that causes balance problems.
The Tsengs live on the bottom floor of the addition and the original house, Shih Tseng said. Because of his wife’s difficulties sleeping and walking up and down stairs, they could not live in the original house itself, he said.
“The whole purpose of this addition is to get her living on one floor. And because of the psychiatric problems, there was huge fear and terror of moving from this house,” Ruby told the committee. “The daughter owns it; she wants them to remain there for the few years they have left. And the demolition, really, under the circumstances, is going to produce a very serious adverse effect on these two people who find themselves disabled.”
Sinclair told the committee: “I am so sad and sorry, I mean this sincerely, for the plight of the Tseng family — the elders. It is no fun to be in that condition; it is no fun growing old. But that is not, ladies and gentlemen, a consideration about land use. Sorry, it just isn’t. It can’t be.”