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Hay River highrise owner defends absence, 6 months after fire

The owner of a high rise apartment building in Hay River, N.W.T., said 'there was nothing I could have provided' tenants in the aftermath of a fire that displaced about 150 people.

'There was nothing I could have provided for the tenants,' says apartment building owner

Harry Satdeo, the owner of Mackenzie Place, said "I think I did well" of his response to the March fire. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The owner of the highrise apartment building in Hay River acknowledged he hasn't been looking after his tenants' needs recently, but said being in town following a significant fire in the building earlier this year wouldn't have made a difference. 

Harry Satdeo said he can't remember where he was when a fire broke out in March on the 11th floor of Mackenzie Place, which he's owned under Satdeo Inc. for the past 17 years. He said he's been travelling and might have been in New York or Morocco.

"That's quite a bit away. That's not like being in Toronto," Satdeo said. "There's no way that I could have showed up right away."

Satdeo said he doesn't think he could have helped tenants affected by the fire. About 150 people were displaced and have been out of the building ever since.

He said organizations were helping people find new homes and there wasn't anything he could have done in person that he could do over the phone.

"I think I did well," he said, referring to the aftermath of the fire.

"There was nothing I could have provided for the tenants. I don't have alternate accommodation in town" that could have helped them, he said. 

Satdeo said he hadn't been in Hay River for two years because he's been going through a divorce. 

He believes it's the landlord's responsibility to make sure tenants' needs are looked after. Satdeo said the manager he had in place while he was away was negligent, and so in that respect Satdeo said he himself had been negligent in his own absence as well.

Remediation plan required

Satdeo is back in Hay River this month working on getting the highrise up to code. He said about 40 of its 122 units are damaged and not fit for tenants. 

Some are damaged because of the fire, some have mould, and at least 15 units have a small amount of exposed asbestos. 

In April, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer issued a public health order to protect people from any health hazards related to the fire. The order also required Satdeo submit a remediation plan to address the other health hazards in the building.

According to an email from Andrea Nilson, communications officer for the Department of Health and Social Services, Satdeo submitted an initial plan on July 11. Satdeo said that plan included an assessment of 10 per cent of the building, which he said is industry standard.

He said after reviewing that plan, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer asked him to conduct a more fulsome assessment, which would include details about the entire building. He hopes to have that ready next week. 

In March, a fire on the 11th floor displaced residents of the building's 122 units. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Nilson said the revised remediation plan needs to include fire or water damage conditions in all suites that haven't been inspected by a qualified professional, plus details on non-visible spaces in the building, mould or asbestos-contaminated areas and restoration plans for those affected areas.

The Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission said it's also monitoring the work at the highrise, but can't comment on cases that are ongoing.

Jay Boast, communications advisor for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said the fire marshal is also evaluating the status of the building's fire alarms, fire separations, sprinklers, emergency lighting, exits and any other fire prevention features. 

80 units ready for tenants: Satdeo

Satdeo said 80 units are ready for tenants to move in for Sept. 1. 

He said previous tenants' leases are terminated because no one has lived in the building for six months. Prospective tenants can apply for a unit in the building by filling out an application form available at the Red Rooster in Hay River. Every applicant has to have tenants' insurance, he said, which was not a requirement before. 

Satdeo said he can't insure the building until workers fix 20 of its balconies. In October 2017, Satdeo Inc. was fined $10,000 for not complying with an order made in 2016 to upgrade its "deteriorating" balconies and remedy other building code violations.

That order followed one made in 2014, after a fire marshal's inspection revealed residents were using a loudspeaker carried from floor to floor as a fire warning system.

RCMP say they're still investigating the cause of the fire. 

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