Fire department closing remaining suites at troubled Saskatoon condo tower

In April, 16 of 44 suites at the Prairie Heights tower on 20th Street W. were closed following fire department inspections. Now the fire department has closed the entire building.

It will be up to the condo owners to decide what happens next with the building, fire department says

Police were called to the Prairie Heights condo tower 403 times in 2020 and 131 times this year. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

A beleaguered condo building in Saskatoon has been closed down, the city's fire department says.

In April, 16 of 44 suites at the Prairie Heights tower on 20th Street W. were closed following fire department inspections. Now, the fire department is closing the entire building, saying it was unable to get ahead of constant vandalism, squatting, drug dealing and other risky behaviour at the building.

Occupants were notified Thursday morning they would have to leave, and given until 2 p.m. CST on Thursday to find new housing. Support agencies were on hand, including the Ministry of Social Services, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the Salvation Army, the Saskatoon Tribal Council — Sawêyihtotân Project and the Saskatoon Police Service.

Of the original 44 suites, 14 units were affected by the closure, three of which are owner-occupied. Thirty suites in the building were already boarded and vacant.

Police were at the building on Thursday afternoon clearing every unit and ensuring no one was left inside once the building was boarded up and fencing erected.

Saskatoon Fire Department Assistant Chief Yvonne Raymer said the department has been working with owners since fall 2020 to improve living conditions at the building.

An inspection in April found more than a dozen health and safety concerns, including unsafe and unsanitary conditions, no water to some suites, sewer waste backup, missing smoke alarms and ovens being used as heating sources. 

On Wednesday, an inspection revealed a water leak from an unknown source in the building. The fire department turned off the water, which meant there was no operational sprinkler system, Raymer said. Electricity was turned off to reduce the risk of fire, but that meant the fire alarms would go into battery backup mode and be drained, so there would be no fire alarm system either.

"We can't continue to fix the protection systems and keep everything going," Raymer said. "It's just not feasible at this point. It's just going to end up costing them more than what it's worth for the last 15 residents.

Take a tour inside a trouble Saskatoon condo tower

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Emergency services were called to the Prairie Heights building more than 500 times last year. They were called for fights, fires and floods. People who own units in the tower on 20th Street say it's a nightmare.

Property owners of the condo owe nearly $58,000 for necessary safety repairs that have been completed at the direction of the fire department.

Condo owners previously told CBC the building took a turn for the worse when it lost its property managers. The building also had no functioning condo board and some property owners had stopped paying condo fees.

Raymer said the fire department had encouraged the condo owners to seek legal counsel and take control of the building to avoid closure.

"This is the first time we've run into a condominium where there was no condo board, and really the building had no type of property management or administrator," she said. "So it put us in a difficult position."

It was even difficult for the fire department to determine who the owners were, or who was squatting and who was a resident, Raymer said. In some cases, even the owners didn't know who their tenants were.

Problem property

The tower had been a problem property for years.

The Saskatoon Fire Department was called to the building 109 times in 2020 and 45 times so far this year, not including inspections and investigations.

Saskatoon police took 403 calls for service to the building in 2020, half for suspicious people or disturbances. The remaining calls included domestic disputes, weapons and intoxicated people. Police responded to the building 131 times this year.

Raymer said the fire department will give the property owners enough time to get organized as a group and decide what will be done with the building.

"It's up to them," she said. "It depends if they can send in contractors and get all this work accomplished. It could be as soon as they want, and it could … take as long as [they] want."


Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan.