Condo and Apartment Dwellers – Know Your Insurance Policies

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When you think of high-rise apartments, flood damage isn’t usually on the top of the list of things to be concerned about. After all, lakes and streams are all the way down there. Us glorious Sky Gods are safe up here, right?  Oh, how wrong we are. I can now say that with experience, seeing as the condo building I live in recently experienced so much flooding that it could have been the backdrop to A River Runs Through It.

It was a calm Saturday afternoon, and I was playing Angry Birds and eating chips solving math equations while doing ab crunches when the fire alarm went off. This wasn’t a totally unusual occurrence.  Unfortunately, fire alarms go off all the time when you live in a multi-resident building and 95% of the time, they’re a non-emergency. Usually it goes off because someone’s dropped something in the oven, blew out too many candles at once, or overcooked a skillet filled with bacon. And so, when the annoying alarm went off, I didn’t exactly leap to my feet and get out of the building right away. Kind of stupid, I know. My husband, however, is slightly more intelligent and got up to look down the hallway to see if he could sense if anything was amiss.

“Ok, we should probably go,” he said quickly.

“What? There’s an actual fire?” I yelped.

“I don’t know – but there’s a big pool of water making its way over,” he said in a not-so-calm tone.

I got up and sure enough, you could hear a rainfall of water all around us. Our neighbours at the end of the hall were desperately trying to sweep the water away from their front door. We could see water coming down in front of the elevators and more  gushing down the nearby stairwell.

Just then, a voice came over our building intercom system.

“This is Fire Services. Evacuate the building. There is a serious flood situation emanating from a burst pipe on the eighth floor. Evacuate the building now.”

Oh F…..udge. We knew it had to be bad seeing as we were on the second floor and were already seeing the water on our level.

We grabbed what we deemed most important to us: our laptops, our laptop chargers, our iPod and cell phone chargers and my purse. I then rushed over with garbage bags and covered the TV and our PVR (that’s Canadian for Tivo) – because, of course, I had some very important episodes of The Facts of Life taped on there. Had to save those! Notice how I didn’t mention trying to save wedding photos, family albums or artwork? Nor any attempt to get useful things like clothes or passports? Nope. Just electronics and their chargers. Apparently the most important things in my life have to be plugged in.

We emerged from the building and joined the group of residents who were standing outside. Water was coming down like a mini waterfall into the lobby. People around us mentioned water being half-way up their shins by the time they left their condo. Another neighbour mentioned that because water has to be under such high pressure to reach the top floors, the amount of water and the force in which it comes out can be massive should a pipe burst. A person who was in the midst of showing her home to a potential buyer looked like she was going to vomit. And everyone was asking who was going to pay for damages.

My husband and I did the only thing we could do in that moment – we went to a bar and crossed our fingers between pints of Grasshopper. The damage to the building was so severe that we actually weren’t allowed back in until the next day.

We had no idea what to expect when we were standing outside our door. The hallway carpet in front of our place was damp and we knew for certain that the people two doors down from us had significant water damage in their walls and floors. We turned the key, creaked the door open and …

It was dry as a bone. Talk about luck.

The same, however, could not be said for roughly 100 other units in our building. And the news doesn’t get much better: while everyone pays condo fees and a part of that fee goes toward insurance, that insurance coverage is limited to repair and replacement of the original unit. Meaning, that if you ripped out the hideous carpet in favour of hardwood and upgraded the kitchen to something from this century, you have to replace those damaged or destroyed aspects on your own. And personal belongings – like clothes, artwork and 80s-sitcom filled PVRs? Same deal. Awesome.

And that’s where private home insurance comes in.  Anyone who lives in a condo or apartment, regardless of whether you rent or own, should have this. It covers your home’s contents, including major appliances, flooring and valuable goods. Be sure to ask about what that policy actually covers, too. Not all policies are equal – some don’t cover flooding damage from a burst pipe, others do. Sometimes you have to get special coverage for such things. Ours covers this and more and we pay just under $20 a month for it. The deductible is pretty minimal and the coverage amount is technically more than we need, but we like to play it safe.

If you’re without home insurance because you figured you’re already covered by your building’s insurance, guess again. I urge you to check out the insurance options out there for yourself and get on it straight away. You never, ever know when you might need to rely on it.

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About Jen

Jen (but never “Jenn”) Byck, aka the Fix'n Vixen, is a Toronto-based freelance writer and communication consultant who is undoubtedly home fixated (she is also TV fixated, really bad TV fixated and donut fixated). Her approach to home improvement has been rather trial and error, the latter of which is evidenced by the amount of spackle she buys on an annual basis.

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1 thought on “Condo and Apartment Dwellers – Know Your Insurance Policies”

  1. Good advice. When we rented I think I paid $150 a year for renters insurance. I never had to use it, but it would have come in handy in case of theft, flood, or fire. Also I recall my policy having coverage for temporary housing which covered a hotel room after an event that forced you out.


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