BLOG | High River tenants, landlords struggle after flood

Everyone in High River, Alta., was faced with loss as the water receded in June, but homeowners with rental properties — and their tenants — have had some special problems.

Many rental property owners, residents don't have coverage

Lynn Bailey's rental property floated away during the flood. The trailer, which is from 2006, fell into a sinkhole and was destroyed when crews tried to move it. (Courtesy of Lynn Bailey)

High River residents Angela Piovesana and Amanda Pawlitzki will be blogging over the summer about their experiences during and after the floods hit southern Alberta.

They'll tell stories of the recovery through the eyes of people who live there.

Everyone in High River, Alta., was faced with loss as the water receded in June, but homeowners with rental properties — and their tenants — have had some special problems.

Many landlords and renters had little or no coverage from insurance, with some companies saying the damages were the result of overland flooding.

Although there is some financial help through the province's Disaster Relief Program (DRP), some landlords say they are not getting assistance to rebuild their rental properties.

This has left many tenants out of their homes — forced to live out of town and away from their jobs.

Heather Meszaros and her husband had significant damage to their rental property.

"We own a rental in High River but have been denied DRP coverage, as it is not a principal residence, and even though it’s under a corporation we don't qualify under the small business plan," says Meszaros.

She says she knows of dozens of rentals that had damage but received no funding.

Meszaros spoke with John Conrad of the DRP program, who underscored the value of having rental properties in town, but told her best bet was to lobby for a policy change so rentals are covered and High River residents can get rental units back operating.

Waiting for word

Lynn Bailey and her husband’s rental property was hit hard from the flood. She says she has filled out the appropriate DRP paperwork but has yet to hear if she will qualify.

"We have been denied insurance on our rental [a trailer], as it was not sewer damage and it floated away with the flood and hit another trailer," said Bailey.

"A huge 20-by-30 [feet] sinkhole opened up next to it and when they filled the sinkhole they tried to move my trailer and it fell apart and had to be demolished."

The renters of the property Bailey owns are now living in a holiday trailer on their boss’ acreage and have not heard anything from the DRP themselves.

Bailey, a longtime resident of High River, says without rental accommodations people working for minimum wage will go elsewhere, leaving no employees for small businesses.

"It seems like High River is a house of cards and unless all homeowners are compensated — no matter who, why or how they own the property — our community will not thrive again," she says.

Long commutes

Marie DeWitt and her husband now have a longer commute to their jobs as a result of the home they rented being deemed not fit for habitation. The couple are now living in Claresholm, Alta., a community south of High River.

DeWitt teaches at High River’s Holy Spirit Academy and her husband is a peace officer in northwest Calgary.

"My husband drives two hours into work, does a 12-hour shift, drives two hours home. Once school starts, I'll have a 50 minute drive in, and 59 minutes back," says DeWitt.

Like DeWitt, Christy Downey, her husband and their two teenagers can’t find a rental property in High River. Christy grew up in High River, but had been living away from town when the flooding happened.

"We were living in Arizona and had purchased a home there. I was considering the schools for my 15-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son. As I looked I couldn't seem to find that special touch that High River has towards kids. There is a grace here for kids growing up, their ups and their downs," said Downey.

Downey says is hopeful she will find a permanent rental in High River, saying there is no other place she and her family would rather be.

"We had travelled throughout the States mostly feeling like strangers. Each city has their unique qualities. High River isn't lost, nor has it disappeared or will it disappear, it’s just beginning — a new look maybe, but the same heart," said Downey.