Security expert David Hyde first encountered urban exploration around a decade ago, when he was working operations, mainly in high-rise office buildings. Today, the phenomenon has reemerged in the form of roof-topping, the perilous act of snapping panoramas from a building’s apex — in some cases, accessed illegally.
“We used to call it urban exploring, and that’s really where I believe the concept came from,” he says. “In high-rise office buildings, daredevil teams would go up to the roof and take these crazy photographs of these areas, and we’ve seen it morph from there.”
Of the 40 to 50 condo audits Hyde’s firm, David Hyde & Associates, has done in the last few years, only a handful have reported roof-topping activity, so he doesn’t consider the problem to be widespread. However, he has received select reports of the activity, especially at new and iconic condos.
These high-profile targets are most prone to breaches as construction nears completion and residents begin to occupy the lower floors, says Hyde. But the security expert adds that older, lower profile buildings can be susceptible if they have lax roof security.
Indeed, in a September, 2014, blog post about why he’s “done with roof-topping,” Toronto photographer Neil Ta talks about the process of entering buildings, going up the elevator or stairs and looking for an unlocked door or hatch.
“The majority of times we would fail and move on to the next building,” he writes. “There was a lot of failure. It took a lot of perseverance and repeated location scouting to access certain buildings at optimal times.”
One of the reasons Ta cites for giving up the practice is that it no longer felt like roof-toppers were doing nothing wrong. He describes a new breed of roof-topper undeterred by locked doors or hatches.
Ta’s comments foreshadowed the arrest of three men in February, 2015, as part of a Toronto police roof-topping investigation. According to media reports at the time, the three men faced varying charges of mischief under $5,000, possession of break-in instruments and break and enter and commit.
Const. Victor Kwong, media relations officer, Toronto Police Service, affirms that common charges in these types of cases can include break and enter, mischief and trespass.
“A lot of times the buildings are under construction when it takes place,” he says, echoing Hyde. “So there are no real four walls that people have to break in, but that does not determine break and enter; break and enter means breaking a threshold.”
In an interesting twist, in some cases, Const. Kwong has seen property owners allow photographers to shoot from their rooftops in exchange for access to the resulting pictures. But for the property owners who fall outside of this camp, he recommends cameras and security.
Toronto police are especially concerned about the danger the practice poses to public safety. While photographers may be willing to risks their own lives, Kwong asks: “What happens if they fall on someone else?”
If anyone is hurt in connection with roof-topping, the Occupiers’ Liability Act could come into play, says condo lawyer Chris Jaglowitz, partner at Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP. In particular, he points to section 3 of the Act, which requires the ‘occupier’ of a premises to take reasonable care to ensure a person entering the premises is safe while on the premises.
During construction, the builder would be considered the occupier. After turnover, the condominium corporation would be considered the occupier of the common elements.
“If someone goes over a balcony after drinking a few too many beers, is that the condo’s problem or is it that unit owner’s problem?” Jaglowitz poses as an example. “Usually, it’s the condo’s problem where the balcony is part of the common elements and the safety of the area is in question.”
Of course, he adds, a judge would decide whether the occupier bears any responsibility based on the specifics of a case. Often, judges will apportion responsibility amongst two or more parties, taking into account whether the injured party was contributorily negligent or whether a third party, such as a unit owner, bears any responsibility.
It’s difficult to gauge what level of responsibility, if any, a condominium corporation might bear for what happens at ground level if a door to its rooftop is left unlocked, says Jaglowitz. But the condo lawyer suspects it’s probably remote.
“There’s no way to say you’re not going to get sued,” he says. “It’s just a question of: Do you really have potential legal exposure of losing a case like that if you were to get sued?”
Some of the reasonable safety measures a builder might take when people begin to occupy a condominium that is still under construction could include posting signage, such as “Danger” and “No trespassing,” offers Jaglowitz. Some of the reasonable safety measures a condominium corporation might take after turnover could include surveilling areas that are vulnerable to trespassing as part of its security plan.
Though security expert Hyde tailors plans to a rooftop’s use, one of his overriding tips is to have clear rules in place as well as oversight. That could involve security staff monitoring rooftop activity with periodic checks and tools such as access control systems and CCTV cameras.
If people are observed engaging in unauthorized activity, he recommends dealing with them strictly, according to the rules of the building.
“If they’re trespassing, you can give them a warning under the Trespass Act in the province,” says Hyde, “to say, ‘You are trespassing, we could call the police and have you charged for trespassing’ … underlining with them that there are safety aspects and rules, and if they’re found up there again, then they’ll be prosecuted.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.