Carmen Cheung thought her condo renovations were almost done – then a contractor punctured a pipe, sending an hour-long cascade of water through the walls of her Burnaby home.
"I saw … like rain coming down from outside, it was pouring like a waterfall," Cheung told CBC News.
The damage was so extensive that Cheung — and the occupants of three other condos in the building - had to relocate during the repairs. A disaster turned into a nightmare, as Cheung found herself in a snarl of seven insurance companies.
"I feel so frustrated, and at the same time I feel very sorry for the other units, because they have to pay the expenses too," she said.
Cheung says that the strata's insurance corporation insists that her mother — as the legal owner of the condo — is responsible.
"My mom didn’t drill a hole. My mom didn’t cause the flood. So we went to our insurance company, and basically they said it's not their responsibility."
"It’s really, like no one is telling me anything."
The insurance companies stalled over who should cover what.
The property manager for the strata corporation began demanding deductibles and leaving phone messages, suggesting Cheung is responsible to pay or the matter may end up in court.
Cheung says she scrambled to understand her rights. Her elderly mother, the legal owner, felt blamed and tried to make amends with neighbours by apologizing, and even paying $189 for damages done to another unit.
"You know what? No insurance claim should be that difficult," says Kevin McIntyre, president of the B.C. Insurance Broker’s Association.
"But when you have a situation like this, when you have three different adjusters involved in one probably relatively small loss, and a whole bunch of insurance companies and a property manager involved and a strata council involved — it's just too much. It's just too confusing - and frankly it shouldn't happen."
McIntyre says a lot of times an insurance broker can act as an advocate for the individual condo owner.
Many condo owners are also under-insured. More than half of B.C.'s condo holders do not have homeowners' insurance, according to McIntyre.
That is a risky situation, says Tony Gioventu, of the Condo Homeowners' Association, because if an owner is responsible, they are likely responsible for paying a deductible that could be anything from $500 to $100,000.
Water damage and floods are the highest causes of loss to Canadian insurance in recent years — flooding alone costing $3.4 billion to the industry.
That’s driven premiums up — and put a lot of pressure on condo stratas not to make claims — according to Gioventu.
He says he's seen bullying from all sides in disputes, from condo board members, property managers.and from neighbours.
"People putting a lot of pressure on their neighbour because they say, 'Hey wait, just because you had a claim doesn't mean I want our insurance to go up.'"
The worst part about situations like Cheung’s, McIntyre says, is not the soggy walls — it’s the bad blood between neighbours.
"The saddest thing for me is, it's neighbour against neighbour, in a place that you want to go home and enjoy your life and relax in."
Numerous calls to the property manager received no response. Attempts to reach condo board members were unsuccessful so far.