'Cockroaches, bodily fluids and drug paraphernalia': Inside a troubled Saskatoon condo tower

Inside the main entrance stairwell at Prairie Heights. (CBC - image credit)
Inside the main entrance stairwell at Prairie Heights. (CBC - image credit)

On a warm spring morning, the problems with the Prairie Heights condo tower assault the senses.

The tangy stench of urine wafts up from the open parking area beneath the tower at 1416 20th Street W. in Saskatoon. The incessant cooing of pigeons roosting on balconies almost drowns out the traffic passing by. The ground is littered in various places with syringes, food wrappers, bird feces, discarded shoes, shirts and pieces of furniture.

"I would say that 90 per cent of the issues that we saw had to do with cockroaches, bodily fluids and a lot of drug paraphernalia," she said.

"I would say that 90 per cent of the issues that we saw had to do with cockroaches, bodily fluids and a lot of drug paraphenalia," she said.

"We did note that it appears public corridors, stairwells, are being used for lunches, drugs use, possibly sleeping, bathroom facilities."

The decline of Prairie Heights frustrates the city and the people who own units in the building. Former condo board members say infighting among owners and a cumbersome legal process are behind what's playing out in the tower.

"It's just like pushing a boulder uphill," said former board member Geoff Wilkie. He sold his unit in January at a $70,000 loss.

"It doesn't matter how hard you try. This doesn't seem to get any better unless you have all the players in the building willing to co-operate."

The parkade after vandals caused the building to flood.
The parkade after vandals caused the building to flood.(Courtesy of Jay Korven)

Raymer said that the fire department has issued "multiple orders" to fix the protection systems in the building since last fall. She said the owners have not complied.

"We've notified the owners, indicated the work that needs to be done and it's been declined," she said.

"We indicated we're going to do what is needed to be done to maintain the minimum standard for these protection systems. We've repaired and restored them, fully operational, and the cost is being invoiced to the owner."

The bill totals $58,371 and covers off work done by the fire department, police and contractors.

Condo conundrum

Bobbi Korven bought a suite at Prairie Heights in 2008 as an investment, intending to rent it out. She said the plan worked fine until about two years ago, when the building took a precipitous decline.

This decline is reflected in statistics from the city.

The Saskatoon Fire Department was called to the building 109 times in 2020 and 45 times so far this year. These do not include 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.

Bobbi Korven says people sleeping in hallways is an unfortunate reality.
Bobbi Korven says people sleeping in hallways is an unfortunate reality.(CBC)

There are 44 suites in the eight-storey tower. While the units are individually owned, there are also blocks of suites held by individuals.

Land titles records show that Wynyard hotel owner Larry Bozek owns 15 of the suites, while a Lethbridge, Alta., real estate investor named Tapio Lindholm owned another 11.

Lindholm, who spent time in prison after pleading guilty to a 2008 manslaughter in Saskatoon, died in January of this year. Korven said Lindholm's relatives are trying to manage the suites. The relatives did not returns calls from CBC.

Bozek agreed there are problems with the building. He said finding a property manager, and more effectively screening potential tenants, are ongoing challenges.

"The most frustrating thing is trying to find help, to manage my properties in Saskatoon and look after that end of it," he said.

Bozek said some of his tenants have created problems in the building.

"I guess I give everybody a chance and I guess a guy learns later on that, hey, maybe that wasn't a good choice."

Bozek said that he's evicted three problem tenants and has another five empty suites.

Bobbi Korven served on the condo board with Geoff Wilkie. Both say the decline began in earnest when the tower lost its property managers.

"When they left, that's when things started to go south," said Wilkie.

In the past, the managers would meet monthly with the board and the group would make decisions about what needed to be done in the building. Without a building manager, getting the work done fell onto the board.

"It's been really frustrating," said Korven, who is 75 years old. "I'm getting older and I've never run a condo before."

Further complicating things, she said some owners in the building simply stopped paying condo fees. The board has the power take the owners to court, but it's a costly, time-consuming fight that few had the appetite to tackle.

Korven said people simply stepped away from the board. She said the building currently has no functioning board.

As Wilkie said, "it's like a headless horse."