Tenants of evacuated Kensington apartments likely won't be compensated by insurance, says expert

A 125-resident apartment building in Calgary's Kensington area that was hastily evacuated Thursday, needs fixes for a structural problem affecting every floor.

No timeline for residents to move back home

Residents of this Kensington apartment building are not allowed to return to their homes, after it was deemed unsafe for occupation by the City of Calgary on Nov. 24, 2017. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

Occupants of a seven-storey apartment building in Calgary's Kensington neighbourhood, that was hastily evacuated Thursday, likely will not be compensated through renter's insurance, says an expert, even though there's no set date for them to return to their homes.

The 125-resident building needs fixes for a structural problem affecting every floor, the city says, and it's not yet known if residents will ever be able to move back in.

Shoring posts were being delivered Friday and workers were on site to start fixing the structural problem, Dennis Turhove, the city planning department's Safety Response Unit Supervisor, said at a news conference Friday afternoon. 

​Emergency crews were initially called to Kensington Manor in the 300 block of 10th Street Northwest after a call Thursday warning of a "possible imminent building collapse."

Officials quickly determined that the residential block was not in immediate danger of falling down, but had serious problems that meant people needed to promptly vacate the building, which ​also houses a few retail businesses including the Running Room.

The city said Friday that it ordered a quick evacuation when an engineer doing work for the building's owner made that determination.

"We go by what the engineers told us, and that's how we will react," said Turhove.

"If they're concerned, they have some concerns for structure … we would take that seriously and we go straight to a public safety piece and immediately do the evacuation and cease occupancy." 

City says it has no idea when residents can live in building again

Turhove said Friday that it would be at least two weeks before residents would be able to get all of their belongings.

He said he had no idea when the tenants would be allowed to live in the building again.

Some of the displaced tenants who were at an information meeting with the building's property manager on Thursday night said he told them he believed the building would not be suitable for occupation again for at least six months.

A sign outside Kensington Manor states that the building has been declared unsafe for occupation. (Mario De Ceccio/CBC)

Many came home Thursday to a sign on the door that said "do not occupy," with officials telling them they had 15 minutes to pack some belongings.

Resident Becca Gould told CBC News she still can't believe what happened. 

"I'm in shock, I'm thinking that this is a very surreal experience and that this is all just a crazy dream, that I'm hallucinating in my head, but you kind of sometimes have to pinch yourself and you're like, wait, this is actually happening," Gould said. 

Building had previously known structural issues

The building had previously known structural issues to do with its balconies.

The building's owner had hired the engineer to investigate, who found additional structural issues with the building on Thursday and informed the city.

Turhove said he's not sure when the building owner learned of the damage.

The decision was made to clear the building of its residents at around 2 p.m. Thursday.

Members from Calgary fire, police and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency were on hand to assist in the building's evacuation.

Pre-existing damage likely not covered by insurance

Rob de Pruis, director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says most insurance policies will pay for living expenses if a homeowner or tenant is unable to live at their property due to being in imminent danger.

But, the danger usually needs to be caused by a peril named in the insurance policy — an event like a fire or an explosion — not wear and tear or gradual deterioration.

Residents of the Kensington Manor apartment block in northwest Calgary were told to leave their homes with little notice after officials deemed the building structurally unsafe on Thursday. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

"There's typically not a commonly available insurance coverage that covers wear and tear when we're dealing with a home insurance or tenant insurance-type policy," de Pruis told CBC News. 

"In this type of situation for the common tenants insurance policy for the additional living expense, if they were to call their insurance representative, they may not get good news ... it sounds like [the damage] was pre-existing."

A resident of the building told CBC News that the building's landlord is pro-rating the rent for the month of November, returning tenants' damage deposit cheques and will be paying them an additional $250.

The city may also have support available to help residents find housing solutions. 

"The best thing [impacted residents] can do is contact the Calgary Housing Company, mention that they are tenants of Kensington Manor, and they can take it from there," Turhove said.

Many residents may not have any supports, tenant says

Resident Scott Potter was at home working when he got a knock at the door, he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"There were two guys there that told me I basically had a few minutes to get out," he said.

"We just grabbed clothes, we packed up our pets and that was basically it."

Potter said he and his wife were able to stay at his mother's place.

But he says many residents of the building are new to Canada and might not have the same sort of support network.

"I'm not even that stressed compared to those people. I can't imagine going through that," he said.

John Hrytsak said staff at the Running Room packed up the store's merchandise in just a few hours, with help from Calgary firefighters. (CBC)

"I was doing a tour of the store the day before and we didn't have any inkling the building might be in jeopardy," Running Room manager John Hrytsak told CBC News. 

He said staff jobs are not at risk due to the closure, and that employees have been moved to nearby store locations.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener