This is Why You Should Get Tenant’s Insurance
If you're one of the thousands of renting Vancouverites without tenant's insurance, one little accident can cost you.
November 20, 2017
Emily was camping with her husband when she got the call: her upstairs neighbour had had a mental breakdown and flooded his apartment—which in turn, flooded hers.
She came back to Vancouver to find water raining down from their ceiling and pooling on the floor. The mattress was wet. Their computers were wet. Paperwork and camera were destroyed.
But there were bigger problems to deal with than replacing some possessions: suddenly, the couple was renting an apartment that was unliveable. And without renter’s insurance, they didn’t have much choice but to crash with friends until repairs were done. “Thankfully we had a place to stay—I don’t know what we would’ve done without it,” says Emily. “Finding somewhere suitable to move to with our giant dog in our price range was next to impossible, so we just had to deal with it.”
Their landlord told them to sue the offending upstairs neighbour—but he didn’t have insurance either. Luckily, as a contractor who had recovered from his manic episode, he was able to offer to repair the damage himself. But, three months in, it’s been anything but smooth sailing. “For weeks, everything was covered in dust,” says Emily. “And we had to be this middleman, arranging all the repairs. I called the tenancy board and looked into what the landlord should be doing. It turns out he has to provide space that’s livable if you’re paying rent, but he’s not really responsible for fixing any cosmetic problems.”
According to Stats Canada, less than half of all in Canada have tenant’s insurance—and with 135,000-plus people renting in Vancouver, that means a huge number of apartment dwellers are at risk of financial responsibility or displacement at any time. “People aren’t educated properly,” said one BCAA agent who asked not to be named. “They feel like ‘I don’t own this place, why do I need insurance?’ But the highest frequency of claims come from tenants, not owners. If you have a house, you take better care and never put the washing machine on while you’re out of the house, but if you’re a tenant the mentality is ‘I don’t have to care.’”
It might not be surprising that if a tenant causes damage—via a toaster fire, perhaps—he or she is responsible. (And that under the Residential Tenancy Act, tenants are not responsible for repairing damage that was not caused by the tenant or a guest of the tenant.) But it’s a shock to many renters to find out that even events beyond their control can put them at financial risk. In the event of an emergency (be it fire, theft, flood or worse), damage to the building is covered by your strata or landlord, but your personal needs are not. If your stuff is ruined? Not their problem. If you can’t live in your apartment for six months while they replace the floorboards? It’s your financial burden to bear. If your friend slips and falls in your kitchen during a party? It’s you on the hook.
At just a few hundred dollars a year (between $200 and $400 depending on the value of your personal property and the condition of your building), it seems on paper that tens of thousands of Vancouverites are taking a big risk just to save a little cash.
Roommates Haley and Nicole experienced their own flood nightmare in their crosstown building around the same time as Emily did. “A dishwasher pipe elsewhere in the building affected 25 units. It took us three days to get ahold of our landlord,” says Haley. “We assumed she would take care of it but she just told us to ‘figure it out.’”
The restoration crew the landlord eventually hired left seven large industrial fans running around the clock and accessed their suite at all hours. With missing drywall, chunks of the ceiling gone, exposed sockets and wires, and a hydro bill that skyrocketed by 200 percent, Haley and Nicole found their apartment was suddenly unliveable, and started spending nights with friends and family. When they discovered the repairs were going to take four to six months, they asked to break their lease and move elsewhere permanently—and then found themselves being threatened with a lawsuit for loss of rental income.
“Our big takeaway is obviously: get rental insurance. It’s just not worth it to deal with something that happens that isn’t even your fault…but nobody has it,” says Haley. “It’s so crazy. Even our lawyer’s daughter doesn’t have it.”
Some buildings will make tenants insurance a requirement of residency, but for others, it’s a choice for the renter to make. For the risk-averse (or those of us who don’t want to shell out a secondary monthly rent in case of emergency displacement), it might be a smart move to buck the no-insurance trend: a few hundred bucks a year for a little peace of mind.
Have you suffered from a lack of tenant’s insurance? Let us know in the comments below!