Saskatoon condo tower closed down by fire department
SASKATOON -- The Saskatoon Fire Department says it is left with no other option than to close the entire Prairie Heights high-rise.
“Despite our efforts to ensure the building was safe, clean and not a fire hazard, we cannot get ahead of the constant vandalism, squatting, drug trade, risky and unhealthy behaviours,” Assistant Chief Yvonne Raymer said in a news release.
“We cannot allow people to live in this building until significant changes are made.”
According to the fire department, the latest inspection of the building revealed a water leak that is starting to seep through drywall and leak into the elevator and collecting in the elevator shaft.
“We don’t know where the leaks are, so to protect further damage to the building we’re closing it,” Raymer says.
“It's not feasible to continue hiring companies to fix these issues. We are going to shut off the water. We will help rehouse people in safer places.”
Of the 44 units, 30 are boarded and vacant, the fire department says. Of the 14 affected units affected by the closure, three are owner occupied.
During a news conference held Thursday afternoon, Raymer said as of 2 p.m. all residents had been moved out of the building.
"The fire inspectors with board-up crews, and with the Saskatoon Police Service are clearing every unit to ensure that when we secure the building we're not actually securing any residents inside," Raymer said.
"It's always harsh whenever we have to make the heavy decision to close a building. It doesn't come without empathy," Raymer said.Of those affected by the closure is Norbert Knihnitski, a condo owner and longtime resident at Prairie Heights.
“I never broke any laws. I pay taxes ... I never hurt nobody. And I got my life savings in here and it comes to this,” he said, holding back tears.
In a previous interview with CTV News, Knihnitski said he put extra locks on his doors and keeps a sword above his headboard in case he needs it to protect himself.
Knihnitski, who is about to turn 67, said this is the last thing he needs.
“Mr. Charlie Clark, where are you? We could use your help. We’re left high and dry. You’re helping everybody else but not us,” he told CTV News.
Sergii Bogdanoff, another owner and resident of more than 15 years, said he will fight for his property.
“I not happy about that. It’s broken my life here. I am missing my money, want compensation, compensation. City can pay for the compensation ... I’m like garbage dog here.”
Raymer said the property is disproportionately demanding resources of the fire department (SFD) and Saskatoon Police Service (SPS).
In 2020 SFD and SPS responded to the high-rise 109 times and 403 times respectively, she said. This year to date, SFD has responded 45 times and SPS has responded 131 times.
At the end of April, the department closed 16 suites and secured another 13 because of unauthorized access. Also last month, SFD issued an invoice to property owners who collectively owe nearly $58,000 for necessary life-safety repairs completed by various companies, SFD says.
Inspectors have found hazards including suites with no water service, sewer waste backup and stolen copper wire in some suites, according to SFD. They've also found missing oven doors and ovens being used as a heating source, food and human waste.
In March, CTV News obtained surveillance videos showing a violent confrontation in a hallway and a person apparently threatening someone else with a machete.
The building is a condominium divided into several individual owners and has no organization like a condominium board working on their behalf. One person owns or controls 15 – roughly a third – of the suites in the building. The estate of another individual owns 11 suites.
At 9 a.m. Thursday, SFD says it began advising occupants of the imminent closure. With the assistance and support of other agencies, they will have until 2 p.m. to find rehousing.
Several agencies are helping those tenants who need help with housing or income support, including the Ministry of Social Services, Saskatchewan Health Authority, Salvation Army and Saskatoon Tribal Council - Sawêyihtotân Project.