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Insurance issues could cause B.C. condo market collapse, homeowners association warns
VANCOUVER -- There are dire warnings that the condo real estate market in B.C. could collapse unless the province steps in to stop it.
A representative of a condo owners' association says recent changes to insurance rates mean that not only are buildings having to pay more for coverage - some are being denied altogether.
"This is something no one had foreseen," said Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium and Homeowners Association of B.C.
Gioventu says he knew higher rates and deductibles were coming. Some insurance companies are pulling out of B.C.'s real estate market, and they've struggled to keep up with claims from global disasters.
What he says he didn't see coming was buildings not being able to get insurance at all.
"This will collapse our real estate industry because no one will be able to get mortgages and there will be no buyers and no sellers," Gioventu said.
Gioventu knows of a handful of buildings currently unable to get insurance, and said there could be more out there.
A lack of insurance puts buyers looking to get back in the market at risk of losing their financing, and means sellers may struggle to sell their homes.
Zafar Khan is one of those sellers.
Khan had an offer on his condo in Surrey, B.C.'s Cloverdale neighbourhood, and the deal was to close Feb. 3. But at the last minute it all fell apart, as the buyer pulled out of the sale.
"I found out the strata ran out of insurance," said Khan.
He said he had no idea, and only learned about it later from the buyer's real estate agent.
The agent, Sevin Atilla, explained what happened.
"We found out the strata's insurance came up for renewal and they were not able to renew it," said Atilla, who works at Oakwyn Realty.
"I don't blame the buyer at all," Khan said.
Banks won't finance uninsured buildings and that's what happened with the loan the buyer had secured.
"As soon as they found out there was no insurance in place, they retracted the mortgage approval," explained Atilla.
CTV News reached out to the property manager, Crossroads Management Ltd. The company said it tried five different insurance brokers, all of which were unable to find an insurance company to insure the complex.
Crossroads said it's still looking.
Owners are now at risk if disaster strikes; their banks could pull their financing and they will be unable to sell their properties.
"This affected our deal and we will see more of these deals collapsing in the future," said Atilla.
And massive insurance premiums are adding to the pressure.
The strata president of one Burnaby condo told CTV News their annual insurance premium has quadrupled, from $200,000 a year to $810,000, and they can no longer afford to pay it.
High premiums coupled with extremely high deductibles are also resulting in massive increases in maintenance fees or special assessments.
"This is not a small number of buildings now. We're now looking at several hundred buildings throughout the Lower Mainland that are seeing such dramatic increases," said Gioventu.
Doug Whicker, a strata president of a New Westminster condo complex facing a 40 per cent insurance premium increase, has sent a letter to Premier John Horgan asking for intervention. He says it's reached a crisis and suggests that B.C. set up a non-profit strata insurance corporation similar to ICBC.
"Immediately. We can't wait," said Whicker.
"Government intervention is necessary and it's imperative," added Khan.
CTV News reached out to B.C. Finance Minister Carole James, who has acknowledged the problem.
"We think there are good opportunities to be able to talk with the industry, to talk with condos, to talk with insurance companies, and look at how we can address this issue," she said.
Robert de Pruis with the Insurance Bureau of Canada's western office told CTV News the IBC has been in contact with insurance brokers, underwriters and condo groups and is planning to hold regional meetings across the country to address the condo insurance issues -- including one in B.C. in March -- to try to find creative solutions to address the problem.
In a statement released Friday, the Insurance Brokers Association of B.C. is calling for consultations among all stakeholders with a "focus on proposed achievable legislative action." The IBABC is also recommending two changes to the Strata Property Act. The first would see a $50,000 cap on loss assessments, which the organization says might not apply in cases involving negligence. The second change would see the addition of a standard definition of a strata unit.
"IBABC recognizes these changes won't directly address the rising strata-building premiums and deductibles, but they are foundational pieces to that issue and the long-term stability of the B.C. strata insurance market," the organization said in a statement.
"These two recommendations could protect millions of strata unit owners from further risk of losing their homes and likely help mitigate future insurance market cycles."
If you're a condo owner reading this and are worried about how to protect your investment, there's little you can do except to try to find insurance to cover high deductibles. But without a master condominium insurance policy, you're out of luck.
The buildings that are being hardest hit are those that are the most expensive: buildings with a high number of recent claims and strata corporations that have failed to keep up with maintenance and repairs.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada says it's a complex issue that won't be solved quickly.
However, for Khan and others in his situation without insurance it's an emergency.
"If my lender finds out they'll pull the mortgage," he said.