A tree crashing through the roof of a B.C. couple's house set off a chain of events that left their dream home falling apart, infested with rodents, and the family and its pets living in a trailer parked on the driveway.
Sharon and Paul Gough, from Mission, B.C., are now locked in a battle with their insurance company after a routine claim ballooned into an all-out repair disaster.
They say contractors recommended by Wawanesa Mutual Insurance caused almost a million dollars worth of damage to their home, which they believe it is no longer safe to live in.
For the past eight months, the Goughs have been living in a 300-square-foot trailer with their teenage son, a 120-pound mastiff and two chihuahuas. It's a big adjustment from living in an 8,000-square-foot home with seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms they scrimped and saved for decades to own.
In order to enter part of their home, the Goughs say they have to don hazmat suits and masks.
"It went from a tree that fell on our home to mega destruction," Sharon Gough told Go Public.
"How can anybody ever anticipate the nightmare that went on in our home?"
Initial repair bill estimated at $78K
When a large Hemlock tree hit the family's home during a wind storm in August 2015, it damaged a section of the roof. The repair cost was estimated at $78,000.
The Goughs contacted their insurance company and were given the option of using a contractor recommended by Wawanesa to repair the damage or find their own.
"We felt we have a claim, they have good people, what they call preferred vendors, that's good for us," Paul Gough says.
That's when things started to fall apart.
Replacement tiles for the damaged section of the roof couldn't be found. Instead of paying to replace the entire roof, the Goughs say their insurance company delayed repairs for eight months. The contractor had covered the hole in the roof with a thin nylon tarp while a decision was being made on what to do.
"One morning we woke up to a squirrel sitting on our rafter and again we were like, 'Guys, you need to get in here and deal with the animals that are getting into our house,'" Paul Gough says.
"We had no idea at that time that it wasn't just squirrels and birds. It was rats.
"So again they [Wawanesa] stalled, they waited, then ... used one of their preferred vendors again — pest control company," Gough says.
The company used poison instead of traps to get rid of the rats, which resulted in the rodents dying behind the drywall.
Before the pest control company could remove the carcasses, the contractor sealed the hole in the roof enclosing the dead rodents inside the walls and the ceiling.
'They are preferred not because they are good at their craft — it's because they are cheap.' - Scott Stanley, insurance lawyer
The house is now filled with flies and the Goughs say anyone entering the attic has to wear a hazmat suit and a mask to avoid contaminating the rest of the home.
"It's an incompetent contractor that didn't have the skill set along with the adjusters to be able to handle the claim and they simply lost control of it," Paul Gough says.
Wrong stucco, broken windows
The couple allege Wananesa's preferred contractor also damaged the stucco on the outside of their home during repairs, so big slabs are now falling off.
While trying to fix that problem, the workers broke four windows, he says.
The replacement windows leaked when it rained, and the basement flooded, the family alleges. Wiring has also been potentially eaten by rats so there are no functioning smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.
"It just goes on and on and on and on," Paul Gough says.
Preferred vendors list questioned
When contacted by Go Public, Wawanesa Insurance declined to answer questions about the Gough case or about how it chooses preferred vendors for home repairs.
On its website, the company says it will provide names for contractors "with which we have had good experience," that it will not recommend companies "unless we have complete confidence they will provide you with the quality claim repairs you deserve," and that it guarantees their work.
Long-time insurance lawyer Scott Stanley, from Vancouver, cautions homeowners against using preferred vendors, calling the term "misleading to the customer."
Most insurance providers have companies they recommend to customers for repairs. They're called different names but the idea is the same.
"The preferred vendor is one that is preferred by the insurance company," Stanley says. "And they are preferred not because they are good at their craft, it's because they are cheap."
After making an initial claim, Stanley advises homeowners to get a loan from their bank, pay up front for repairs with a contractor they choose, then submit the claim to their insurance company.
This usually requires getting several quotes from different companies, then the approval of the insurance company before starting repairs.
Wawanesa 'confident' in fair resolution
Wawanesa and the Goughs are going through a claims dispute resolution process over the cost of repairing all the damage done to their home.
"This … process is intended to assist in resolving situations where there are differing views on the required scope and cost of repairs…. We are confident that the integrity of that process will result in a fair resolution of the matter," Selena Hinds, director of communications and community affairs for Wawanesa, wrote in an email to Go Public.
That process likely will delay repairs even further. Stanley says dispute resolution can take as long as six months.
"Although it's a good technical process to resolve your legal issues, it's not a good practical resolution to your insurance claim," he says.
Claim balloons to 'over a million'
Almost 18 months after the tree hit their roof, the Goughs say they are no closer to being able to move back into their home. The family sleeps, showers and cooks in the trailer — and have even moved Paul's home office into the RV.
Sharon Gough now works two jobs so her husband can take time off work to act as a contractor and manage the cleanup and repair companies that need to be hired to make the home livable again.
- Been wronged? Contact Rosa and the Go Public team
The Goughs are no longer using Wawanesa's preferred vendors, and have found contractors of their own.
"Unfortunately, when the snowball starts rolling down the mountain, it just gets bigger and bigger," Paul Gough says.
"And if every day you have another incident, you have no trust left."
Submit your story ideas
Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.
We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.
We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.
Submit your story ideas at Go Public.
Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.