Edmonton

Did your condo insurance fees skyrocket? This lawyer wants to know about it

An Edmonton lawyer is travelling the province talking to condominium owners, managers and insurers in an effort to get hard data on Alberta's condominium insurance.

’We can’t see another cycle of this. People are losing their homes,’ condo lawyer says

Lawyer Hugh Willis is conducting this project pro bono. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

An Edmonton lawyer is travelling the province talking to condominium owners, managers and insurers in an effort to get hard data on Alberta's condominium insurance. 

On Thursday, Hugh Willis asked Fort McMurray condo owners about their experience in getting insurance coverage on their condo complexes.

The response was worrying, he said. 

"We can't wait. We can't see another cycle of this," Willis said. "People are losing their homes over this issue and we don't want to see it without the industry pushing a response and suddenly we're back next summer and it's happening again."

It's unclear what's causing insurance rates to jump sharply across the province, he said. While some owners are told they made too many claims, others seeing huge increases have made no claims in the last five years. 

"We have to gather the industry data so that we can have more informed or more productive discussions," Willis said. 

Willis isn't alone in his efforts to learn more about condo insurance. He's working with several other organizations including the Canadian Condominium Institute North Alberta Chapter, Strathcona County Condominium Association and Condo Owners Forum.

Since August, condos have been facing much higher insurance premiums.

Steven Webb, an owner and condo board member at Wood Meadows Estates North in Fort McMurray, said the insurance premium on his condo jumped from $500 last year to $4,500 this year. 

And 20 per cent of the units weren't able to pay their share of the insurance, meaning the condo board has to come up with the money to cover the premium. 

"I'm not sure if we can actually do it," said Webb. "There's undue pressure on the boards now." 

To cover some of the cost, the board reduced services like landscaping and maintenance. 

"That's going to affect the quality in appearance and curbside of your units because they're no longer maintained properly," Webb said.

Lougheed Estates in Fort McMurray. Many condo complexes in Fort MCMurray have struggled to get insurance. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

That also trickles down, because they aren't going to hire as many people to do work on the condos, meaning there are fewer jobs in the region, he said.

It also means he has less disposable income to donate to local charities Webb said. 

Willis said these concerns are something he hadn't thought of before going to Fort McMurray. 

"Different perspectives can offer different solutions or different nuances to solutions," he said. 

Condo corporations typically operate in silos so it's important to gather information from a wide swath of organizations to get a proper understanding of the market, Willis said. 

Heather Campbell says they've had to neglect maintenance projects at Trilogy condos because of the increase in insurance costs. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Higher insurance costs means the condo doesn't have the money for upgrades to decks and roadways, said Heather Campbell, a condo owner and property manager with Trilogy condominiums in Abasand.

"We hear grumbling every time we raise condo fees, but then when we can't do a project ... we get anger."

Campbell said she'd like the government to take action quickly, "not after a study is done." 

"Cap it now. Let's review the information that's collected, and come up with a conclusion between both parties."

Willis said he sees the same issue across the province, particularly the greater Edmonton area. 

His tour will end in Lethbridge on April 16. He expects to have the first results from the study in mid to late May. 

Willis said anyone interested in participating can fill out an online survey being used to collect data from condominium corporations across Alberta related to their insurance coverage. The survey closes March 31.

Organizers plan to share survey findings with the provincial government and the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

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