Fire department closes 16 suites at problem-plagued Saskatoon condo building

The Saskatoon Fire Department has closed 16 suites at the troubled Prairie Heights condo bulding due to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.

“Up until now we have been able to remedy the life safety issues in the building,” Fire Chief Morgan Hackl said in a news release.

“The conditions in a number of suites have degraded to such an extreme state the fire department can no longer, in good conscience, allow people to live there," Hackl said.

Around 12 residents will be rehoused to safe, healthy accommodations and the Ministry of Social Services has established housing plans and transportation for each person based on their unique needs, the department said.

“Our focus is always community safety. We are adopting a community approach to this issue to make sure we have the least impact as possible on every resident involved,” Hackl said. 

For most of the week Saskatoon police have been on site at the condo tower, essentially serving as security details for members of the fire department and the various contractors working inside the deteriorating building, according to Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) inspector Cameron McBride.

McBride said the sheer number of units that needed to be shuttered speaks to the poor living conditions in the building.

“It’s an identification or a confirmation of the fact that many of the suites should not and cannot be occupied by people, they’re not livable spaces, they’re not safe environments for people to be living in,” McBride said.

On Wednesday, according to McBride, officers responded to a call about an injured woman who had been stabbed at Prairie Heights, a known hotspot for police in the city.

“For 2021 so far the police have received 187 calls for service to that address and so at that rate we’re on track to receive over 600 calls for service to that building unless things change,” McBride said.

The fire department said  inspectors found numerous hazards including suites with no water service, sewer waste backup and stolen copper wire in some suites.

Inspectors also found missing oven doors and ovens being used as a heating source, food and human waste and "unauthorized entry" into vacant suites.

According to a handwritten note jotted on a fire department notice, locks on a mechanical room door were changed to prevent people from living inside it as a suite and tampering with the sprinkler system.

Assistant Fire Chief Yvonne Raymer said the shuttered suites are “now in the hands of the condo owners to restore their units to a safe and habitable environment.”

She said the affected condo owners were contacted by the fire inspector before the units were officially closed.

In an interview with CTV News earlier this year, Geoff Wilkie, who used to own a unit at Prairie Heights, described conditions inside the building located in the 1400 block of 20th Street West.

“There’s needles everywhere, there’s graffiti on the wall, there’s bikes in the hallway, there’s garbage in the hallways, there’s broken doors. People use the stairwells for their toilet, people throwing up. It’s just disgusting," Wilke said.

Wilkie said he’s also witnessed people injecting drugs in common areas of the building at 1416 20th Street West.

He and other owners believe most of the issues stem from people who own multiple units in the building and are renting them out to people without proper screening. 

One resident who spoke with CTV News in February said he sleeps with a sword within reach because he fears for his safety.

Video obtained by CTV News shows the violence that some residents say happens routinely inside the building.

Condo owner Sergii Bogdanoff told CTV News he feels optimistic about the future of the condo tower after the 16 units were cleared out and blocked off.

“The situation we hope very soon changes for the better because gangs and drugs are moving out but it’s not enough,” he said. “It's a small change but we’re very happy about that, we need serious help to fix the situation.”

Earlier this month the condo board was served with a $58,000 bill for fire code repairs and cleaning the fire department hired out to fix the problems inside.

The condo corporation had 30 days from April 12 to settle the bill.

Of the amount, $28,000 was solely for the use of Saskatoon Police Service and fire department officials hired to protect contractors in the tower while work was being done.