Saint John renter 'caught in the crossfire' between out-of-province landlord and city's water department

Susan Holita spent a day and a half expecting her water to be shut off at any minute.  (Submitted by Susan Holita - image credit)
Susan Holita spent a day and a half expecting her water to be shut off at any minute. (Submitted by Susan Holita - image credit)

For a day and a half, Susan Holita lived with the prospect of having her water shut off — through no fault of her own.

She was stressed and wasn't exactly sure when the water would stop. Not knowing when it would happen was almost as stressful as the prospect of living without running water.

Holita has been living in the one-bedroom condo on Golding Street, near St. Joseph's Hospital, since she moved to Saint John, N.B., in 2018 and has always paid her rent, which includes water.

On Wednesday, she awoke to find a notice taped to her front door. It was from the city's water department and it said because her landlord hadn't responded to "three separate notices," her water would be cut off within 48 hours. It was dated Nov. 15, the day before.

The letter said the issue was testing of the back-flow prevention device and the landlord hadn't returned the "necessary test report(s)" as required under plumbing regulations.

It said the final notice had been sent on Aug. 8 and provided a 30-day deadline.

Submitted by Susan Holita
Submitted by Susan Holita

Holita called the number on the letter and was told that cutting off her water might force the out-of-province landlord to contact the department.

She said it's not fair "to threaten, bully and punish a tenant for the wrongdoings of a landlord.

"And I even said, 'Why should I do the work for you guys?' It's not my job. And they say doing that, then it's going to make him then come to us because we have failed."

Holita said she shouldn't even "feature in this equation."

When CBC contacted the city, an official said the issue had actually been resolved on Wednesday, the same day Holita discovered the letter on her door.

"Saint John Water notified the building owner of this change, after which it is the building owner's responsibility to notify the tenants of the update," said Michael Gray, the operations manager of Saint John Water, in an emailed statement.

Except no one told Holita.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

She even made several calls to the property management company and no one called her back.

In fact, she's been trying for three months to get the landlord to address a potential leak from an upstairs neighbour, but he has yet to return her messages.

CBC tried to reach the company, Watkins Property Management, on Thursday. No one answered the phone listed on their website, and the voicemail mailbox was full. No one responded to an emailed message either.

According to property records, the condo is owned by Bradley Dwight Samuels and Igor Trninic. Neither returned messages left at their places of business in British Columbia.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Gray said the owners of 20 Golding Street received three previous notices informing them their backflow preventers were not in compliance.

He said "Saint John Water requires backflow prevention to reduce the risk of contamination or pollution of the public water system."

So when the owners failed to comply, Gray said the city had to take steps to "protect the remainder of Saint John Water's customers by isolating (shutting off) the non-compliant property until such time that we can ensure the backflow preventors are tested and certified."

'Caught in the crossfire'

Holita isn't happy about getting "caught in the crossfire."

"Water is life," she said. "This is a basic necessity of life."

Matthew Hayes, the spokesperson for the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, agrees that tenants shouldn't be used as pawns.

"To my mind, this just speaks to how agencies in [New Brunswick] treat tenants as an afterthought. Of course a tenant should not have their water shut off if their landlord doesn't pay the bill," he said.

Landlords also have an obligation to make their rentals livable, explained Jael Duarte, a Fredericton lawyer and advocate for the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights.

"Not paying the water, not paying the hydro, it is not keeping [the premises fit for habitation]. So it is not allowed."