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Saskatoon strip-mall small businesses face collective $60k water bill

Some businesses at the Canarama shopping centre in Saskatoon are looking for answers after being billed nearly $60,000 collectively for water.

Artis REIT, the company that owns the shopping centre, sent notices to a number of businesses in the strip-mall stating many owed thousands for 2020’s water bill.

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Mari’s Sewing is on the hook for more than $4,000 from last year. The bill came as a shock to owner Mari Roustaei, who said the pandemic hit her business hard.

“This year we were closed for two and a half months, and then after that, after we opened, we didn’t have so many customers so we were just on appointment,” she said.

She said she doesn’t understand how she owes thousands for water when she only uses a small bathroom in the back of her shop.

While she does not know how much she typically pays for water, she said it is usually included in her $900 rent each month. She has been at the shopping centre since 2017.

Who did it? No answers

Neighbours Global News spoke with confirmed they were facing similar water bills and did not know where the charges came from, but declined to speak further while they figure out what is happening.

Some larger stores in the centre — like Extra Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart — have their own water meters.

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However, Mari’s Sewing and many of the smaller businesses are connected to one meter. That makes it impossible to know which business used how much water.

Instead, as per their lease agreement, tenants are charged a certain percentage of the water bill per square foot of their space.

Collectively they said they owe around $60,000.

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In the fall of 2020, Roustaei, and several other tenants, said the company flagged an issue with access water usage. Storeowners were asked to check for leaks, and the company even sent someone to look at several stores, as well.

That was the last Roustaei said she heard about the issue until she received her bill earlier this month.

Tenants have until May 1 to figure out a payment plan with Artis REIT, according to a letter sent to Roustaei from the company regarding her outstanding bill. It’s unclear if there was a leak, and if it contributed to the staggering statement.

“It’s not something that is easy for us to pay,” she said.

“It’s not just about the money, it’s about that it’s not fair.”

Not many legal options

Tenants likely can’t do much, according to one lawyer with experience in real estate Global News spoke with.

Most commercial leases like this in Saskatchewan put the tenant on the hook for utilities and damages – such as pipe breaks – even if there is a leak that isn’t caught, according to Richard Carlson.

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While their doesn’t appear to be much way for Roustaei and others to get out of the bill, Carlson said there is something they could do.

“If there was one particular tenant that’s responsible for causing this, maybe there’s a valve somewhere or they were doing some renovation work … tenants may have a cause of auction for reimbursement or recovery [from that other tenant],” he said.

Carlson also suggested tenants could look at their insurance policies for much needed help.

“If the damage or leak was within their premises, for example, they might have an insurance claim where they can get reimbursed,” he explained.

The City of Saskatoon told Global News from its records there did not appear to be a surge in water usage at Canarama shopping centre, lead alone nearly $60,000 worth.

For Roustaei, she said she would like to see a water meter installed at each business in the strip-mall to make sure they are each paying their fair share, and to catch leaks early.

Global News contacted Artist REIT, the strip-malls owners. Property manager Brandi Clarke declined to comment beyond the company is working on this issue with tenants and the city.

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