Fort McMurray homeowners frustrated about rebuilding process

The enthusiasm to rebuild homes after the Fort McMurray wildfire has given way to frustration for some residents.

Lawyer, contractor advise homes still standing in hardest hit areas should still be inspected

MacKenzie Cadieux's three-bedroom patio home was destroyed by the wildfire in May. (David Thurton/CBC News)

The enthusiasm to rebuild homes after the Fort McMurray wildfire has given way to frustration for some residents.

"You really don't know who you can trust, that is the biggest thing in Fort McMurray right now," said MacKenzie Cadieux, who lost her home in Abasand.

Cadieux and other residents from fire-ravaged communities attended a forum at Shell Place on Wednesday evening, where a lawyer and a contractor answered questions.

Residents from communities hardest hit by the May's wildfire listen to presenters at a town-hall meeting held Wednesday evening at Shell Place. (David Thurton/CBC News)

"One of the first few comments that was given to me as a sign of hope was, 'Oh, at least you get to rebuild a new house the way you want to,' " Cadieux said. "I don't want to rebuild a new house. I like my house the way it was, and this to me is a lot of aggravation in my daily life."

Insurance questions

Residents had questions about demolitions, permits, damage assessments and insurance.

Presenter and lawyer Terrence Cooper said people need to first understand their insurance policies.

Cooper said it's critical residents understand terms like "guaranteed replacement costs," because that means insurance companies will rebuild their homes as long as the new home has the same specifications as the one destroyed.

He also recommended that owners get insurance companies to break down in simple language what's required of them in order to get compensation.

But most of all, the Fort McMurray lawyer said, residents shouldn't necessarily settle for the first offer they receive. Instead, they should negotiate the best settlement that covers their living expenses, demolition and rebuilding costs.

"Don't settle anything unless you have a significant strategic advantage," Cooper said.

Inspect partially damaged homes

Owners who will return to homes that sustained minor damage were urged to have their homes inspected and tested as soon as possible.

"The minute they say, 'You can go back in,' if any of you have been getting any compensation (for living expenses), the insurance companies are going to cut it off," Cooper said.

"If you move back in, even though there are problems, then you basically have said that there are no problems that prevent me from living in the house."

Lawyer Terrence Cooper, left, and contractor Paul McLeod answer questions from Fort McMurray residents at Wednesday's meeting. (David Thurton/CBC News)

Contractor Paul McLeod, another presenter, recommended tests that homeowners in the worst affected areas should do.

"You can have an abatement test (for asbestos) done," said McLeod,  owner of Vancon Services. "You can have a heavy-metal test. Obviously, there was a lot of heat and smoke melting all kinds of things around your home. You can also do ground sampling."

May's wildfire destroyed or damaged 2,793 homes or apartments, and a total of 3,200 units cannot be re-occupied, according to July estimates from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.