Saskatoon lawyer says Prairie Heights condo owners must band together to get building up to code
A Saskatoon lawyer says it’ll be tough to navigate the next steps when it comes to the closure of a problem-plagued condo building in the city’s Pleasant Hill neighbourhood.
“I feel bad for all of the residents and owners in the building. It’s a very difficult situation to be in when you’re kicked out of your home,” said Jamie Herle, who practices condominium law at Cuelenaere LLP.
The Saskatoon Fire Department (SFD) shut down the building at 1416 20th Street West Thursday after inspectors discovered a water leak that was starting to seep through drywall and leak into the elevator and collect in the elevator shaft.
Assistant Chief Yvonne Raymer said water to the building had to be turned off to prevent further damage.
“It was unable to be ascertained exactly what was leaking, whether it was a sandpipe, sprinkler, water and sewer or if in fact we had more copper pipes that had been broken. So, at this point it’s no longer feasible due to the number of residents affected to continue to do the work and then invoice back to be condo owners,” Raymer said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Raymer added that with the water protection system being down, electricity to the building also had to be shut off to reduce the risk of fire. She said that means the fire alarm will go into battery backup and will eventually drain leaving the building with no fire alarm system.
Herle said it’s a difficult situation because owners still have to pay their bills and mortgages but can’t actually live in the building.
She said the next step would be for all condo owners in the building to take control and chip in their share to pay to get the building back up to code.
“As far as the owners go, they have to step up and be their own voice and take control. Look at what’s there, step into the books and the management and the board to do what has to be done. If you’re looking for a quick and easy fix, there isn’t going to be one here,” Herle said.
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.
“Just like I own my house and I’m responsible for the upkeep to my house, this is all of the owners divided by their respective shares in the building that have to make this happen,” Herle said.
Herle said the owners can also come together and decide to sell the entire building or come to an agreement with the bank and walk away from their property.
Last month, the fire department issued an invoice to property owners who collectively owe nearly $58,000 for necessary life-saving repairs completed by various companies.
Of the 44 units in the building, 14 were affected by Thursday’s closure. Three of those units are owner-occupied. The remaining 30 units were already vacant and boarded up.
The Ministry of Social Services and other community agencies were on-site Thursday helping connect residents to housing and income supports.
Two residents that were displaced are temporarily staying at the Salvation Army.
“We’re always looking for more permanent housing. In this situation of course, they may be looking for new accommodation unless they’re an owner of the condo. We’ll work with them to find out what their desire is, to see if they want to move to another location, if they’re waiting for this opportunity to open up,” said Mike Hoeft, area commander for the Salvation Army.
“We’re here to serve and when there’s a crisis, we do whatever we can to be of service to the community, so we were happy to be apart of that and be able to be there for people on a very difficult day.”
On Thursday, CTV News spoke to two longtime owners and residents at Prairie Heights who are calling on the City of Saskatoon for compensation and on Mayor Charlie Clark to personally intervene.
In a statement, the Mayor said, “Displacing people is and must be the last resort. This is a terrible situation for these tenants and Saskatoon Fire has been working for months to prevent this from happening. The City has intervened extensively to find solutions for people to live in this building safely. But ultimately we cannot allow people to remain in buildings where safety risks continue to occur.”
One of those residents told CTV News he had no choice but to sleep in his truck outside the building Thursday night as he is still waiting to find accommodations.
The other resident says he is taking it “day-by-day” and staying with relatives.