Montreal·Special Report

Montreal landlord's triplex nightmare

A Montreal homeowner says the home insurance industry is pushing her away after costs for repairs on her triplex soared dramatically.

Homeowner Sari Buksner says home insurance industry is pushing her away after big repair job

Montreal homeowner Sari Buksner says home insurance companies are shutting her out as a client after a big repair job on her triplex in the Plateau Mont Royal. (CBC )

A Montreal property owner says an insurance company is refusing to renew her home policy after a $145,000 repair job.

Sari Buksner says now she has been pushed into the substandard market and her premium rates have increased by $4,000.

Aviva Canada footed the bill for two water damage problems discovered at Buksner's triplex in the Plateau Mont Royal borough in June 2012, she told CBC Montreal Investigates.

"I just don't understand the principle of when you make a claim for what you're paying for, then they say you're uninsurable," she said.

Two years ago, one of her tenants alerted her to a leak dripping from the second floor to the first. Her insurance firm saw the problem was a valve linking to her water heater on the second floor.

Aviva also noticed a separate leak, near the toilet of her third floor.

Buksner said an original estimate for the two claims by a contractor she had asked to inspect was $19,919.

Problems start

Buksner said she settled with a contractor recommended by Aviva after the first one she found did not want the job, saying it was beyond their expertise.

But the work dragged on for months.

An email from an Aviva claims adjuster to Buksner shows the insurer acknowledged the extra labour, including a couple of painting jobs which had to be redone due to workers accidentally painting over old caulking, and grout to be cleaned up on the triplex's third-floor bathroom. 

The biggest setback was a lack of proper insulation for the newly installed pipes, said Buksner.

"The pipes froze," she said. "They basically had to rip up all of the insulation, re-insulate, they had to rip up all the first floor gyproc, and re-install all of the plumbing."   

Aviva also paid for $58,155 worth of rent she missed out on as her tenants were gone during the work.               

In total, Aviva paid $144,515 for the work.

No more policy

So far, she has only found a willing insurer in the substandard market.

The policy would cost her around $11,000, roughly $4,000 more than what she was last paying with Aviva.

She would also be required to pay it all up front, and would not receive water damage protection for her triplex.

Aviva, meanwhile, would not provide an interview to the CBC, and would not discuss Buksner's case for privacy reasons.

"We look at many factors that impact our decision to renew any given policy, including claims frequency and overall risk exposure," it said.

Little recourse

Organizations which handle complaints from policy-holders indicated Aviva's behaviour is not unheard of for insurance firms.

"There's no requirement for an insurer to renew any customer," said Brian Maltman, executive director of the General Insurance OmbudService of Canada. "It is a free market and it's based on risk assessment and the insurer's comfort level with that kind of risk," he said.

Both Maltman and the Insurance Bureau of Canada said her best option was to keep looking for another insurance firm which would take her in.

"There are no magic numbers, there are no norms," said Insurance Bureau spokesperson Lynn Crevier.

She said each insurance firm makes its own decisions on when they may or may not renew a policy.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada does mediate between policy-holders who approach them for problems with their insurers over principal residences, but says its mandate does not include the same responsibility for investment property owners.

In Quebec, the Autorité des Marchés Financiers is the public body in charge of looking into complaints about insurance firms.

The AMF refused to grant an interview on the subject.

Its website maintains insurance firms do have the right to terminate a policy without providing a justification.

"I just don't understand the principle of when you make a claim for what you're paying for, then they say you're uninsurable.- Sari Buksner, Montreal homeowner 

Worse for landlords

Meanwhile, one of Quebec's largest landlords' associations said problems between landlords and the insurance industry may only grow.

CORPIQ's Public Affairs Director Hans Brouillette said 46 per cent of all apartment buildings across the province are more than 50 years old.

He said landlords typically face the choice of paying larger premiums for their properties or investing a lot into maintenance.

"You can have the intention to make those repairs. Everything cannot be done on the same in the same year," said Brouillette. “You may have a plan for years, now you can say to your insurer that you plan to do this and this, so he knows in advance that you are going to fix the problems and do the proper maintenance of your building."

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