Saskatoon

Pleasant Hill landlords 'desperately trying to not have their properties destroyed,' says association

In July, the Pleasant Hill Community Association sent a letter to Mayor Charlie Clark, criticizing a lack of action on the neighbourhood's challenges. Their concerns included violence, gang activity and boarded-up houses.

Saskatchewan Landlord Association says boarded up houses are a loss prevention strategy

Alisa Thompson in a property that was ruined when it was robbed for copper. Thompson says she would like people who sell copper to show proof that they are in the construction industry in order to curb copper thefts. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

The theft happened when Alisa Thompson's real estate investment company Epic Alliance was renovating a house in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood, getting it ready for new renters.

"Here's what you get left with when you kick open the back door and then they rip all the copper out," Thompson said during a tour of the house.

The kitchen had been demolished, with cupboards and other debris strewn across the floor. The situation was the same in the bathrooms. They even took the water meter, flooding the basement. The house reeked from the water damage, and from being boarded up.

This house was in the process of being renovated and almost ready to be rented when it was robbed for copper. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

"Why is this house sitting boarded up? Because all these repairs now have to be done," Thompson said. "Just so they can get $20 to $30 worth of copper; this is the damage they do."

She said 12 Epic Alliance houses have been broken into this year for copper.

Boards are a loss-prevention strategy

In July, the Pleasant Hill Community Association sent a letter to Mayor Charlie Clark, criticizing the city for a lack of action on the neighbourhood's social challenges. Their concerns included violence, habitual criminal and gang activity — and boarded-up houses.

But landlords and real estate investors like Thompson say the houses are being boarded up as a loss prevention strategy.

Hillary Sayed, president of the Saskatchewan Landlords Association, said thefts like this are happening on a daily basis throughout the city but you see it more in Pleasant Hill because the houses generally need more work.

"In many instances, these aren't being done because you're a negligent or absentee landlord; it's being done because you're attentive and you're trying to prevent problems," Sayed said.

"The landlords are desperately trying to not have their properties destroyed and sometimes that looks like a boarded-up house."

This house in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood has been boarded up because it was robbed for copper and is unsafe to enter. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

Finding creative alternatives

Taking care of properties in Pleasant Hill means Thompson has had to get creative. 

She's trying an experiment in some of the Epic Alliance properties: instead of boarding up the doors and windows, she has put sheets in the windows and left a light on. Many renters in the area use sheets instead of blinds or curtains as a more affordable option.

"We're finding that the transients or the squatters are not wanting to attempt the properties," Thompson said. "The grass is cut, there's no garbage, so they feel someone lives here."

One such property has been empty for more than two months while they finish renovations. No one has attempted to break into it yet.

Tenants want to be in the core

Rochelle LaFlamme, Thompson's business partner, has lived in the core herself for the past eight years. She said the house next to her is owned by a slumlord. There's garbage in the yard and they spent an entire winter with the windows broken.

"As long as it stays on their side of the fence, we're fine. The minute that it comes onto my side of the fence, I will go get my baseball bat, we will have words. Is that pretty crazy? Yes. But if you want to live in this kind of neighbourhood and you want to keep those barriers in play, they have to know who owns that property."

Rochelle Laflamme and Alisa Thompson are the founders of Epic Alliance, a real estate investment company. They have many properties in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood. (Epic Alliance/Facebook)

She said she doesn't feel afraid but she is careful. She's aware of her surroundings and tries to be smart.

LaFlamme chose to live in the core because the home prices are so reasonable — she bought her house for $160,000 — and she said her tenants in the area also choose to live there.

"That's where all their friends and families are."

Stronger police presence needed

Hillary Sayed, president of the Saskatchewan Landlord Association, said landlords feel police are not adequately dealing with the crimes so landlords are left to try to deal with the problems themselves.

"I'm left to go out there with my broom and hit the person with the needles in their arm and shoo them away from my property because they're creating a nuisance and disturbance in the neighbourhood," Sayed said.

Police are a common sight in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

One solution the city is considering is a licensing system to regulate landlords but Sayed said the model she has seen won't solve the problems in the neighbourhood.

"The landlords who are good landlords will comply with the licensing. The landlords who are problem landlords … why would this be the thing they comply with?"

City aware of problems

Mayor Charlie Clark agrees there are some challenges with licensing, especially because only about 20 per cent of the landlords in the area are not working with the city and other officials. 

"You don't want to create a system that captures everybody in a complicated administrative net when really there's a very small number of of problematic apartments," Clark said.

He'd like to see a clear accounting of abandoned sites, abandoned buildings and boarded up homes, and to have officials work with the owners to see the sites put to good use.

"Ensuring there's clear monitoring and accountability, we can help alleviate some of the stress that residents are feeling because from what I can tell right now, it's actually the residents who are keeping an accounting of those buildings."

He said the issue will be discussed at a planning committee this week. 

About the Author

Ashleigh Mattern is a web writer and reporter with CBC Saskatoon, CBC Saskatchewan, and CBC North; and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca

With files from Guy Quenneville