Asifa Lalji has worked hard to stay in her New Westminster, B.C., home.
When she was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, she invested thousands of dollars to make the strata unit more accessible. Now, she worries an increase in her building’s insurance premiums might force her to move.
“You’re paying for insurance as long as you don’t use it,” said Lalji. “Once you actually need to use it, then they don’t want to insure you anymore.”
The premium for Anchor Pointe on Quayside Drive climbed 300 per cent from $69,000 to $259,000 upon renewal this year. The reason the strata council has given — there were fewer insurance providers willing to provide the coverage. The companies that would, meanwhile, have dramatically increased the cost.
“We got word three days before the insurance expires that the rate was going to go up,” said Stephen Holmes, the strata council treasurer.
Strata council president Bruce Campbell said there are many residents in the strata who are just scraping by financially. The increase in monthly fees might mean cutting back on food budgets or being forced to move elsewhere, he added.
“It’s absolutely gut-wrenching, because you’re trying to handle a situation where people are in a panic mode,” said Campbell.
Lalji has launched an online petition seeking government intervention. She said the explanations given by the insurance companies don’t add up.
“They’ll say B.C. is a high earthquake zone,” Lalji explained. “Well, B.C. has always been a high earthquake zone … that never had an impact before. Why now?”
Pressure has been mounting on the provincial government to act. While full building recovery insurance is mandated under the B.C. Strata Property Act, there is no mechanism in place to ensure private insurers will offer the coverage at an affordable cost.
Premier John Horgan said while this issue has only come up in recent months, Finance Minister Carole James has set up a caucus committee to look into the issue.
“We’re going to be speaking to the Insurance Bureau of Canada to get their rationale for these unusually large spikes in costs, and we’re going to do what we can to manage those down,” he said.
Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the BC Liberal Party, was quick to highlight the NDP government’s slow response.
“We raised this with the NDP finance minister last week and she blew it off,” said Wilkinson. “Condo owners need to know that government is on their side.”
There are more than 30,000 strata buildings in British Columbia. Lalji hopes her petition will pick up in momentum and send a message to all stakeholders that the current response and explanations aren’t enough.
“I just spent a substantial amount of money making my unit accessible,” she said. “It’s the first time I’m actually worried about where I’m going to live.”