The role of preparedness in insurance claims

How property managers can prevent damage and protect residents when emergencies occur
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
By Ryan Michel

Being prepared for an emergency or catastrophic event is something condo owners don’t often discuss, and it’s easy to understand why. Good condominiums pride themselves on creating an environment that is safe, convenient and generally hassle-free. While residents may feel removed from the issues that other homeowners face in regards to being prepared for an emergency, it’s important for condo managers and boards to create and encourage a culture of emergency preparedness on the properties they oversee. This culture will not only protect the property, but also the people who live there.

In recent years there’s been an increase in catastrophic damage to homes and properties across the country, much of which can be linked to the rise in severe weather events such as tornadoes, ice storms, hail, flooding, blizzards, and windstorms. While many condo residents will not have to deal with the direct impacts of these events in the way that the owner of a detached home might, there are still things that condo managers can communicate to residents in order to help prevent damage to their units and common areas of the property. They include:

  • What the corporation’s insurance policy does and doesn’t cover
  • How to prepare for an emergency and prevent property damage
  • How to navigate the post-emergency insurance process smoothly

Condo boards and managers can help fill the information gap in these areas to ensure residents have a clear understanding about their insurance coverage and provide a less confusing atmosphere for both managers and residents should the need arise to make an insurance claim.

Understand coverage

Condo managers should encourage residents to familiarize themselves with their condominium’s declaration. In the event of a claim, one of the first things an insurer will ask for is a copy of the condominium declaration. If the condo was incorporated before May, 2001, the insurer will also ask if the condo corporation has a standard unit bylaw.

These two documents help insurers determine who is responsible for repairs once damages have been discovered. It also helps define “upgrades or improvements” for residents and insurers. Essentially, these documents are effective tools that managers can use to let residents know what they are responsible for. Residents should store these documents in a safe place or online, so they can be sure to have these documents available when the time comes to make a claim. In addition to reminding residents about important condo corporation documents, managers can also remind residents to review their insurance policies. Doing so gives a resident the opportunity to familiarize themselves with what their policy covers and what the condo corporation’s policy covers.

If a claim does become necessary due to an emergency situation, knowing ahead of time will make the situation easier to manage for all parties involved. Revisiting their own insurance policy also gives residents an opportunity to consider whether or not they need to enhance the coverage of the contents contained in their unit.

Prepare, prevent damage

A survey conducted by Leger in 2009 on behalf of Allstate Canada revealed that more than half of all Canadians (54 per cent) feel they will experience an emergency by 2019. However, only nine per cent feel they are very prepared for an emergency situation.

Condo boards and managers should encourage residents to have an emergency preparedness kit on hand and plan ahead in regards to what they would do in an emergency. A standard emergency preparedness kit should contain at least three days’ worth of supplies and include:

  • Non-perishable food items
  • A first aid kit
  • Water
  • A basic tool kit
  • A flashlight with batteries
  • A battery-operated radio
  • A charged emergency cell phone
  • Copies of essential family documents (will, birth certificates, health cards, social insurance cards, insurance policies, passports)

Condo boards and managers should also prepare clear evacuation plans that instruct residents where to go and what to do in different emergency situations. Clear communication about removing items from balconies prior to severe weather events, for example, can help prevent damage to a resident’s unit and other parts of the building.

Being prepared for an emergency not only helps residents prevent damage, but can save time, frustration and money. More importantly, a good and well-communicated emergency preparedness plan can keep residents safe if a catastrophic event should occur.

Notify insurer

Returning to a condo unit after an emergency evacuation can be a frustrating time. Condo corporations and owners should remember that insurance companies are there to help them through their ordeal, and there are some things they can do to make the process run a little smoother. A good tip for managers and condo boards to pass on to residents is to take an inventory and photos of their unit and any unique or valuable items they own (and store this inventory in a safe place) before a disaster occurs. Some insurance companies offer tools to help homeowners calculate the value of their belongings.

Once condo owners have returned to their units, they should take photos of damaged areas.  A claim can be expedited if an owner has before and after photos of their unit, and this is especially true if any upgrades have been made to the unit.

All insurers should be notified immediately once a loss is discovered. Residents should know which company holds the condominium corporation’s policy and have its contact information on hand for claims. This is information managers provide residents in advance. Unit owners should be encouraged to keep this information handy in the event they don’t have access to their unit immediately after a loss.

Residents should also be encouraged to consider the level of coverage they have for their individual unit in the event they are not able to return to their unit after an emergency situation. A standard insurance policy will provide additional living expenses for unit owners, which covers the cost of temporary living accommodations for insureds. Unit owners should be encouraged to touch base with their insurer to ensure their coverage is adequate for potential extended periods of time.

Residents should be made aware of the premiums the corporation is paying and the deductibles that would be paid if there was a claim. In some cases, residents have found themselves underinsured and paying out of pocket to help cover their building’s deductible after a claim. Providing this information to residents can help ensure their policy affords them an adequate level of protection.

The key to getting through an emergency situation involves foresight and making sure residents are aware of what to do before a situation arises. Guiding them in the direction of what questions they should ask and encouraging them to check with their insurance professional are some of the most valuable things a condo manager or board can do to ensure that a condo remains a safe, convenient and hassle-free environment.

Ryan Michel has worked in the insurance industry since 1996. He is currently vice-president and chief risk officer of enterprise risk management with Allstate Canada.