Ian Willard was out helping his neighbours sandbag their homes in Kelowna, B.C. nearly two weeks ago when his own basement suite began to take on water.

"When the flooding first starts you don't know what to think, it's just total panic," Willard said.

"When it started to come through ... it came up all at once. It was one room and then all rooms within five minutes."

Many of the city's downtown streets, which are located on a floodplain, looked like rivers as the combination of melting snow pack, heavy rain and saturated soil took its toll. 

And now Willard and his fiancée, with whom he shares the suite, no longer have their own place to call home. 

As was the case with many homes along Willard's street and other flood-stricken parts of the Okanagan, basement suites — often rented out as mortgage helpers or secondary suites — took the brunt of much of the flooding in the area.

In many of those cases, those renters will have to find new, temporary or permanent homes. As a result, tenants may be out of pocket.

'Nobody to look after them'

In Kelowna, tenants of homes under an evacuation order are eligible for temporary accommodation and support from the city's Emergency Operations Centre, but that's no longer the case once that order is lifted. 

That's an issue for Sheila Seweryn, who rents out a basement suite that looks more like a bunker than somebody's home these days. 

Her property, also in downtown Kelowna, flooded when the creek that flows behind her house breached its banks and poured into her tenant's home. 

Now, Seweryn's rented-out suite is a mess of ripped-up flooring, raised furniture and torn-out baseboards. And her tenant is living on the front lawn in a trailer that he borrowed from his cousin.

Despite those conditions, the suite is not currently under an evacuation order.

"The province has not deemed this as an evacuation, which is ridiculous because it's not habitable in any way," Seweryn said.

"All of the people that were put onto the street have absolutely no rights, nobody to look after them."

But a spokesperson with the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre explained that evacuation orders are only put in place when people's lives are at risk, not when homes are simply uninhabitable because of flood damage.

He said emergency officials prefer to give homeowners access to their property so they can take the necessary steps to protect and repair them. 

And until they do, tenants are on their own to find a place to stay.

Additional support

According to B.C. tenancy laws, when a renter's home is no longer habitable and neither the landlord or tenant is responsible, the tenancy is deemed "frustrated," and neither party has to give notice to end the tenancy. 

The landlord then has to give back damage deposits and any remaining pre-paid rent for the month, but isn't responsible for any other compensation. If the tenant decides to come back, a new tenancy agreement is started. 

Some tenants may be eligible for help from the province's Disaster Financial Assistance Fund — but not if they were eligible to purchase a supplemental overland flood policy through renter's insurance.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, damage caused by overland flooding isn't typically covered by renters or homeowners insurance, but supplemental policies may be available from some providers

But the bureau's vice president for the Pacific region, Aaron Sutherland, said that a supplemental policy could be expensive in flood-prone areas like downtown Kelowna. 

Luckily for Ian Willard and his fiancée, the flooding in their suite rose up from below, which makes them eligible for insurance coverage under their policy. 

But Willard said the experience has left him wondering where he might want to live in the long-term.

"Certainly in the future if I was looking at another rental or to purchase a home, I would take the home being in a flood plain into account," he said.