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Important information about impending deadlines!

This memo is intended to provide general information for those who suffered a loss to their home or property as a result of the May 2016 McMurray Wildfire.

If you have not been fully compensated by your insurance company for your loss please read this as time is running out to file your Proof of Loss. You have realistically about two weeks from Feb 2, 2018

Full compensation means you have either:

  • received all the money you expect to get from your insurance company or,
  • if your home was lost or damaged and is being repaired or rebuilt, you have received 100% of the money from the insurance company that you expect them to pay towards your loss.

If you have a rebuild contract which your insurance company has approved but your insurance company has not paid all the money yet, their approval does not mean your claim has been fully settled. The same applies to contents, additional living expenses and any other loss you may have sustained. This also applies to businesses who may have sustained not only a loss of property but a loss of income. 

Two years to commence your Claim in the Courts

Your insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurer. Your insurer agrees to provide you with compensation if you have suffered a loss which is covered by the insurance policy and you comply with the provisions of the policy with respect to giving the notice of the loss and for filing a proper Proof of Loss.

If your insurance company fails to meet their obligations under the contract and pay you for your loss then you have to sue the insurance company for Breach of Contract.

Under the Alberta Insurance Act, that action must be commenced within 2 years of the date of the loss. Although there have been some interesting court cases arguing discussing when time starts to run, you do not want to be one of those involved in this type of "interesting court case" because if you lose you have lost your entire claim! 

If you suffered a loss from the May 3, 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire, you should proceed on the assumption that May 3, 2016 was the date of your loss. Your Statement of Claim therefore must be filed within 2 years of that date. The safest interpretation of that language is that you must file your claim prior to May 3, 2018.

The first step is to file your Proof of Loss 

BUT WAIT!!! There are steps that you must take before you have the right to sue.

The statutory conditions that will be included in all fire policies of insurance require that you must provide your insurer with the Proof of Loss in respect of the loss or damage to the insured property which is verified by Statutory Declaration and gives a complete inventory of that property and showing in detail quantities and costs of that property in particulars of the amount of loss claimed.

There are other components of the Proof of Loss but what is important for you to understand is that this is a formal document sworn under oath.

Exchanging lists, emails, etc. is not a formal Proof of Loss.

The insurance company has 60 days to consider your Proof of Loss after they receive it. They then must advise you whether they accept or reject the Proof of Loss. 

Under the Alberta Insurance Act, you cannot commence an action against the insurance company until the expiration of 60 days after you have filed your Proof of Loss.

You should consider this to be a condition precedent meaning if this is not done you cannot sue.

There are provisions in the Alberta Insurance Act that allows the court to intervene where there has been "imperfect compliance with a condition or term of the contract" but there is no guarantee that the court would intercede on your behalf. Forgiveness for noncompliance with the insurance act or contract is not guaranteed.

The best rule should be that you ensure your Proof of Loss is filed in time so that you can proceed and file a Statement of Claim to protect your cause of action.

What does that mean? It means that if you have not settled your insurance claim fully and completely, you are quickly running out of time to go through the necessary steps.

Consider this:   Perhaps your house was destroyed or damaged on May 3, May 4, or some other date. To be safe assume May 2, 2018 is the deadline for filing your Statement of Claim. You cannot file that Statement of Claim until the insurance company has had 60 days to consider your Proof of Loss. Counting backwards 60 days is March 3, 2018 that is a Saturday. That means you should ensure the Proof of Loss is received by your insurer by March 2, 2018. How much time do you need to ensure the insurance company receives your Proof of Loss by March 2, 2018?

Realistically you have about 2 weeks to gather together the information and complete your Proof of Loss and have it sent out to your insurance company so they have the necessary 60 days to reply and you can then commence your Statement of Claim.

What else can you do?  - Try to get a Standstill Agreement

It is possible the insurance company may agree to a Standstill Agreement. We have seen letters from AMA extending the time limit for filing the Proof of Loss and commencing the Statement of Claim for a period of 180 days from the date of that letter.

A Standstill Agreement, in essence, stops the clock and then has a mechanism for restarting the clock either a specific date or a notice provision. The fact that insurance company has agreed to a Standstill Agreement with someone else does not mean that they have agreed to a Standstill Agreement with you. You need to have something in writing from the insurance company directed specifically to you confirming the details of the Standstill Agreement.

You should ask your adjuster immediately about whether the insurance companies are prepared to enter into a Standstill Agreement while you are working through your claim. For those individuals who have got their rebuild approved by the insurance company but the insurance company has not yet advanced all the money, it would be reasonable to expect the insurance company would agree to a Standstill Agreement so that you can complete your home. However, they do not have to. For those who have been arguing with her insurance company about the extent of damage to the home or the value of their contents etc. the insurance company may not be prepared to consider Standstill Agreement as they will likely want to move the file forward and close the file.

Dispute Resolution

Although you may need to file a Statement of Claim to protect your ability to claim under your policy of insurance it may well be that  court action is not the forum in which the valuation of your loss is determined. You need to understand your insurance policy and the dispute resolution provisions in that policy.

Your homeowners insurance policy and the Insurance Act contemplates that if there is a disagreement as to the value of the insured property, and the nature and extent of repairs or replacements required than those questions must be determined using the dispute resolution process set out in the Insurance Act whether or not there are other issues in dispute, such as whether the loss is a covered loss, etc. The dispute resolution process will be the topic of the subsequent blog but you need to be aware that it is there and that you may be required to participate in that process rather than having the valuation issues dealt with through the courts.

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Remember, we are #FortMacStrong and we are proud to say McMurray’s My Home!  We will rebuild together!

We have included in this page information about various resources available to you.

We are receiving a number of common questions from those who have called and we are placing some general information below.

Frequently Asked Questions - Insurance

Home and Rebuild

  1. My insurance includes a Guaranteed Replacement Cost (GRC) endorsement for my home, but there is a one year time limitation to qualify. Am I going to receive GRC funds over my policy limit to rebuild my home if it takes over a year?

    • We have heard that some insurance companies are assessing the one year requirement on a case-by-case basis. If your adjuster is claiming you will not receive GRC funds due to your construction timeline – please speak with one of our lawyers.

    • UPDATE FOR THOSE WITH AMA INSURANCE!! If you lost your home and are insured with AMA Insurance you may know that their policy requires you to rebuild within one year to qualify for the Guaranteed Replacement Cost provisions. We have been following up on this as there was a suggestion AMA would waive this one year deadline. There have been rumors and some Facebook posts suggesting this was going to happen. We wanted to ensure it was confirmed and we have now received confirmation from the Vice President of Claims for the AMA Insurance Company that "AMA Insurance is waiving the requirement that in order to qualify for Guaranteed Replacement Cost the rebuild must be completed within one year of the loss" 

  2. My GRC includes other conditions that I am concerned I have not fulfilled. What do I do? Am I going to lose out on the funds to rebuild my home?

    • Your first priority must be to rebuild your home. We believe that the stated limits of Coverage to rebuild most homes will be less than the actual reconstruction cost. You need to ask your adjuster if you qualify for GRC and if you do not qualify, you need to ask your adjuster why. Make sure that your question is asked of your adjuster in writing and that you get a written response. If your adjuster advises you in writing that you qualify for GRC you can proceed to the next step to plan your rebuild. If your adjuster advises that you do not qualify then you need to speak with a lawyer.

  3. SPECs have sent me a Demolition/Debris Removal Authorization form. Do I have to sign this and have SPECs do my debris removal?

    • The short answer is: No. You have the option to hire your own contractor to perform your debris removal. You will want to get estimates and speak to your adjuster about the contractor you prefer. If you have already discussed your rebuild with a local builder they may also be able to do your debris removal. However if the cost is above what SPECs has quoted you may need to find another justification for preferring another company in order to justify the additional expense to your insurer. One example might be that the contractor you wish to hire can provide you with a better timeline for the debris removal.

    • Also, if you have a quote from SPECs that does not include a timeline for when the debris removal will be completed you may want to wait to sign until they confirm your completion date. The goal, after all, is to have your basement poured and rebuild started sooner rather than later – If SPECs cannot provide you a date that allows for that, perhaps another contractor can. If another contractor can provide you with a better timeframe to get your rebuild to lock up phase sooner your adjuster will likely be agreeable to using the alternative to SPECs. After all, the sooner you are in your newly rebuilt home the less your insurance will need to pay for your additional living expenses.

    • Most people have received from their adjuster forms to authorize SPECs to undertake the demolition and debris removal, as well as to backfill their basement once the demolition is complete. The backfill is needed if the foundation is removed before winter and you are not starting your basement this Fall. Make sure you find out from your adjuster if the backfill of the basement and the re-excavation of the basement is included as a part of your insurance coverage. Ask your adjuster if the backfill and re-excavation will reduce the amount of money available for your rebuild. If the backfill is not going to paid by your insurance, or it will limit the amount of money available for your rebuild, you may wish to instead find out the cost of debris removal and securing your site with the basement left in over the winter.

  4. I have a Duplex/Triplex/Fourplex/Patio Home. I need to contact my neighbors to coordinate our rebuild and debris removal. What’s the best way to find out who my neighbors are?

    • One option is to pull the title for their homes from the Alberta Registry office for a small fee. Title will show you who owns the home and also give you the information for the bank that holds their mortgage. You can then look up your neighbors on Facebook or contact their bank. Our office can assist you in pulling title to find your neighbors as well for free.

  5. My home is a total loss and I am considering not rebuilding. What am I entitled to receive under my insurance policy?

    • Under your insurance policy, if you are not replacing your building, then the policy provides that settlement of your claim is based on Actual Cash Value (ACV). This phrase is loosely defined in the policy of insurance. It is usually based on a number of factors, but, most importantly, it takes into consideration depreciation of your home. Under the policy of insurance you are entitled to ACV or the limits of Coverage A, whichever is less.

    • Although your policy of insurance is intended to limit your settlement to ACV if you do not rebuild you may be able to negotiate a higher payout. We believe that the cost of rebuilding many homes in Fort McMurray plus the value of the land that house sits on will in many cases exceed the market value of the house if it were to be sold immediately. At the same time, we believe that the ACV of the house plus the value of the land is less than the market value of the home once it is reconstructed. In other words, if you have GRC and are entitled to have your home rebuilt you may be much better off rebuilding your home and then selling it. If this is the case, it is possible that you could negotiate a settlement with your insurer where they pay a settlement to you based on market value rather than ACV. In other words, they would pay you the difference between what your home might be worth once rebuilt, minus the land, rather than spending more than that amount to rebuild the home.

  6. I have agreed to take an interim payout on the value of my home based on the full amount of insurance as my insurance company has told me the rebuild cost will exceed this value and that I would still qualify for GRC if I proceed to rebuild. What happens to the money?

    • If you have a mortgage, the cheque for your payout will be payable to yourself and your mortgage company. You need to consider carefully whether you use those funds to pay off your mortgage. If you pay off your mortgage then when you rebuild you may have to obtain a new mortgage, pay legal fees, and pay CMHC fees for that new mortgage. You may also find out that paying off your mortgage stops any entitlement to Additional Living Expenses. There may be a question as to whether you qualify for the new mortgage. Your bank may in fact charge you prepayment penalties.

    • Before you take a lump sum payment towards your rebuild, speak with your bank and find out if they will agree to have those monies held in a savings account or GIC which you can then access at the time you are ready to start your rebuild. Many banks will do this.

Contents Insurance

  1. My insurance has offered me a lump sum payout on my contents without needing a detailed list of my property. Should I take it?

    • Depends. Remember that under your policy of insurance your settlement of contents is based on ACV (with depreciation) unless you replace the property. Each policy has a time period in which you must replace your contents if you intend to do so. Understand your policy and any time deadlines that you must meet. You will want to consider whether the amount you are being offered is higher or lower then what you could receive for your contents if your insurance covered their replacement. Try making up an estimate of what you would expect it would take to replace all your property. If the amount of the estimate is higher you may want to hold off on taking a payout. In some cases some people have suggested they do not want to prepare a detailed proof of loss with all their contents – this can also be a motivation to accept the payout, but may be to your financial disadvantage
    • In addition, it can be to your disadvantage to settle any part of your claim early. While your contents remains unsettled this is one more card in your hand to ensure your adjuster moves forward with the rebuild of your home. One recommendation is to wait until you have a firm commitment from your adjuster on the rebuild of your home (debris removal, builder, etc.) before moving to settle your contents. Remember, however, that there are time limits that you must meet and if you are running out time working our your rebuild it may be necessary to move on with the settlement of your contents.

  2. My adjuster is taking issue with reimbursing some of my contents on my property list. In particular he is claiming I have a limit on a certain kind of property. What do I do?

    • Most insurance policies have special limits on particular types of property. Common ones include: stamp/coin collections, sports memorabilia, automobile parts, cash, computer software, etc. If your adjuster is limiting what you can claim for a type of property it may be because of one of these special limits. Check your policy to see what you are entitled to for this kind of property to be sure. Some of the limits apply to any loss. In other cases, some of the limits only apply with certain types of loss (i.e. the limit does not apply to a fire loss but would apply to a theft loss).

    • Sometimes your adjuster may take issue with items on your contents list because they are not “usual” to the ownership of a home (a phrase in most policies). If your adjuster is taking issue on these grounds you will need to find additional reasoning for why that item should be covered or why the item is “usual”. Remember: Your adjuster’s interpretation is not law – you are entitled to negotiate and, if need be, dispute their interpretation. One way you may be able to circumvent this problem is if the property in question relates to your trade or profession (or other special limit of insurance item). If the property in dispute is for your trade or profession then there may be a special limit which your insurance will provide to you. Check your policy for what you are entitled to.

  3. Are items I purchased throughout the evacuation covered under Contents or Additional Living Expenses?

    • It depends on why you made the purchase. ALE are intended to cover reasonable and necessary living expenses during the time period that you are entitled to ALE. Therefore if the expense was necessary to maintain your normal standard of living while you were not able to reside in your home (items of clothing, rent, etc.) then, in our view, that should come out of Coverage D – ALE. If, however, you are out of your home for several months and you have replaced your television set, bedroom furniture, etc., which you lost in the fire – that would likely come out of your Contents.

Additional Living Expenses

  1. My adjuster has told me I’m only entitled to a certain amount of monthly ALE allowance for rent and the amount is just too low for Fort McMurray rent. What do I do?

    • Your insurance likely contemplates that your ALE is to “maintain your family’s standard of living.” This means you should be entitled to an allowance that will let you rent a home of similar size and quality as what you have lost or is being repaired. Your first step therefore will be to show your adjuster what the average rental price of those properties are in Fort McMurray and negotiate for a larger allowance. If your adjuster still refuses to give you the monthly allowance you require then you may need to enter into a formal dispute process if you cannot cover your rent with the funds being provided. Please contact our office if you are in this position.

    • Keep in mind: Getting a larger ALE monthly allowance is not always a good thing. You want to have an ALE monthly allowance that will allow you to be covered for the entirety of your rebuild or repair process. If you anticipate your rebuild will take X months – then you need to try to draw from your ALE limit at a rate that will keep you under your policy limit for that amount of time and still cover your new rent.

  2. I have created a budget for my ALE and I can cover my additional expenses for the entire span of my rebuild. What do I do if there are delays and I run out of ALE funds?

    • Depends. Some policies allow you to reallocate monies under other coverage heads if there is insufficient funds for a specific type of coverage. However, if you “run out of funds” then you have exhausted the insurance that you have paid for. You may have some recourse against someone else but not likely under your insurance policy. Our advice is that any rebuild contract you enter into should have a specific date the home will be completed by with a per day penalty clause charged back to the builder if the home is not completed by that date. This time period is not the best case construction time period but rather the worst case construction time period. This penalty provision helps ensure that you have a realistic time table for the completion of your home and, if there are delays, there are then funds available to cover your additional costs. We are suggesting a $250/day penalty as this is what we have seen in insurance contracts.

  3. The repair of my home is only going to take a short period of time, and so I won’t be using my entire ALE limits. Is there any way I can receive additional funds from my ALE limit? Can I buy additional contents with that money or improve my home?

    • Some policies of insurance have single limit coverage (or blanket coverage) which allows you to move unused coverage to other areas of loss. If your policy is of this type then your unused ALE may be used to fund other costs such as your rebuild. Unless you have this type of policy you cannot allocate ALE funds to other expenses.

    • Also: Remember that you are not intended to profit from your insurance. An insurance policy is an agreement of Indemnity. What this means is that your insurance is intended to restore you to the position you were in before the damage to your home and property.

 

Condominiums

  1. My Condo board is holding a vote on whether to rebuild or take a cash payout. Should I vote to take the payout or to rebuild? What do I do?

    • One of the major things to consider when voting is that the cash payout amount is going to take into account depreciation and will not represent fair market value. What we have been seeing is that this means you will likely be offered around 50% of what you paid for your condo in the payout. For some condo owners this payout will not be enough to cover their mortgage and any associated prepayment penalties. We anticipate that the overwhelming majority of condos are going to opt to rebuild as a result.

  2. My Condo has burnt down, but I am still being charged condo fees – What can I do?

    • Even though your Condominium Complex has been destroyed, there are still expenses that your Condo Board is incurring. You have an obligation to pay your share of the expenses. Most condominium bylaws require that the condo board set a budget each year. The bylaws allow the condo board to levy special assessments if there are budget overruns but normally do not contemplate reducing condo fees if there are budget surpluses during the year. It may be that the condo fees will not be readjusted until the next general meeting. Make sure you attend that meeting and voice your concerns about your condo fees.

  3. My Homeowners Condo Insurance is just like Tenant’s Insurance, right?

    • No. Your Condo insurance policy covers a number of things. It covers:

      • Improvements made to your Condo.

        • The Condominium Insurance rebuilds your unit to the way it was when it was first constructed. If you have upgraded cabinetry, flooring etc., then your policy covers those additional costs.

      • Features to protect you if there is a high deductible to be paid under the Condominium Corporation insurance and if there is inadequate insurance.

      • Your policy should also provide ALE while your condo is being rebuilt.

Evacuation Funds

  1. My adjuster advanced me a lump sum during the evacuation to cover my expenses. Now my insurance is saying those funds are coming out of my ALE – Is this true?

    • Yes. Most insurance policies have a special limit for what you can be given for Mass Evacuation (either in days, dollar amount, or both). However, the amount you received still falls under the section of coverage described as Additional Living Expenses and will be deducted from that portion of your policy limits. Keep in mind if you need to free up funds in your ALE that any personal property you purchased with your evacuation funds can be deducted from contents instead – you will need to submit receipts and speak with your adjuster if this is the case.

  2. My home was fit for occupancy when I arrived back in Fort McMurray. Do I have to return my evacuation funds?

    • Most likely: No. If you have been paid the amount you were entitled to for mass evacuation then this money was given to you to cover expenses from the evacuation. However, If you were overpaid you may find that your adjuster wishes to offset that overpayment against other monies you may be entitled to claim such as damaged contents, cleanings, remediation, etc.

Cleaning and Remediation of Smoke/Soot Damage

  1. My insurance has started cleaning my home but won’t do everything I feel is necessary to make my home safe. What can I do?

    • Our general recommendation is to get testing done in your home to see if there is further damage that requires remediation. In particular you will want to get your air quality and insulation tested. If the results show that the air quality is diminished due to the smoke, soot, ash, etc., you can provide this to your insurer as proof that your home requires further remediation work.

    • If the tests come back negative for further damage, you will have to absorb the costs of the tests yourself. However, one advantage is that these tests can be used as a kind of clean bill of health for when you decide to sell your home.

    • Remember that the practice of adjusting these claims varies from insurance company to insurance company and even within insurance companies from adjuster to adjuster. Because of this we are seeing situations where some homes that appear to have little damage are receiving a significant amount of work effort or attention or cash payouts, whereas homes next door are struggling to get any type of cleaning done by their insurance. Under your insurance policy you have the obligation to advise your insurance company if you have sustained a loss and prove your loss.

    • Your insurance does not ensure you for the smell of smoke. It does, however, insure you and your property from damage caused by an insured peril, such as fire. This damage often takes the form of soot and ash. If you can establish that soot or ash is in your home from the fire then you have damage that needs to be remediated.

  2. I or a member of my family has a medical condition that prevents me from entering my home as following the remediation effort by my insurance. What can I do?

    • This is a difficult problem. You need to connect the reason you cannot use your home to a loss you are insured against. If your “home is making you sick” our recommendation is to have your home tested through ally to determine what the cause of this may be. If you can connect this cause to an Insured Peril (fire) then you can claim additional remediation of your home

Questions for a Builder

The Five Questions You Should Ask Your Builder

1. Is the price guaranteed?

2. What will the start date of my rebuild be?

3. What is the guaranteed completion date of my rebuild?

4. How many rebuilds are you planning to do the year of my rebuild?

5. What is the most number of new homes you have built in any one year, and how many of those were custom homes?

Things Your Contract With Your Builder Should Include

1. Fixed or Guaranteed Contract Price.

2. Detailed drawings and specifications as to what is included in the build – each rebuild is a Custom Home.

3. What portion of the rebuild is covered by insurance (need to have this confirmed with the adjuster and that the funds are “controlled”.

4. Is there a portion that the homeowner is paying above the insurance proceeds? If so, where is that money coming from?

5. Who is authorized to make changes to the specifications (should be homeowner).

6. What is the method for approving extras (should be in writing, signed by the Builder and Homeowner, and if the money is coming from insurance for the extra then it should be signed by the insurance adjuster as well).
7. When is the build scheduled to start (approximately).

8. What is the target completion date, and what is the guaranteed completion date.

9. When are monies payable to the builder, and who handles the moneys (suggest a lawyer’s trust account).

10. Is there a deposit and if so how much (what is purpose) and when is it released to builder.

11. Who maintains the Builder’s Lien holdback (suggest lawyer).

12. How are Holdbacks handled and who determines when advances are releasable or holdbacks are releasable.

13. What happens if builder does not complete home by guaranteed completion date (funding of rebuild has likely been based on this guaranteed date, therefore normal practice would be a per diem penalty charged back to the builder until the home is completed).

"Green" Houses

We use the description “Green” House to describe one of the homes in the affected areas of Abasand, Beaconhill, and Waterways that has not been destroyed by the wildfire.

If you are an owner of one of these houses, your issues are different from the issues many of your neighbours have.

Some of the homes will, in fact, have obviously physical damage from the fire. In many cases, the damage to the home will not be as readily apparent. The damage to your properties will likely be in the form of smoke and ash damage, created by the fire that destroyed most of the homes in your area. Your concerns will be that:

  • The smoke and ash has likely damaged your residences;
  • You want to ensure that any possible damage has been identified and cleaned before you resume occupancy of your homes; and
  • You want to ensure that the redevelopment of the destroyed homes in your neighbourhood does not re-damage your property.

You will be aware that there were toxins discovered in some of the ash samples taken from the ABW areas, and that the chief medical officer for the Province of Alberta has indicated that those areas should be cleaned of the ash toxins before residents return to live there.

The plan to deal with the ash first involved stabilizing the ash by spraying the areas destroyed with a tactifier. The second step relates to the removal of the ash from the destroyed properties, which is intended to occur in the demolition stage. The RMWB has developed a procedure for dealing with the ash during the removal stage. For those homes that have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, the municipality has in fact issued demolition orders. Part of that order requires the removal of all debris, ash, contaminated soil, and “other hazards” upon the land. That removal must be completed by September 30, 2016.

Based on prior announcements, it appeared that the plan in place at the RMWB was to have the ash and potentially contaminated or hazardous material removed from the ABW areas before those people who had “Green” Houses would be allowed to return to their homes. There appears to be some suggestion that the return to the homes will be allowed at an earlier date, but we have not been able to verify this.

The demolition order does not apply to “Green” Houses. There appears to be no plan in place to remove ash or contaminated soil from “Green” Houses. It is unclear as to whether any independent testing has been done by the Province with respect to the lands on which “Green” Houses are situated to determine if the soil is free from the toxins identified in previous test results.

In the case of properties that have been destroyed, if the owners of those properties do not remove the debris, ash, contaminated soil, and other hazards by September 30, 2016 the notice indicates that the RMWB will do so, and will likely charge the cost against the property as part of the property taxes. There does not appear to be a plan by the RMWB to clear ash or soil from “Green” Houses. It does not appear that the Provincial government is taking any separate steps relative to removing soil or possible contaminated ash from the lands where the “Green” Houses are situated.

The issues, therefore are:

  • Whether you need to take steps to remediate for possible ash, contaminated soil, or other hazardous material; and
  • Whether your insurance policy provides coverage for this.

Our recommendation is that you should have your property tested by a professional to determine whether smoke and ash residue is present, and if there are any dangerous substances in the residue of the smoke or ash. If you test your home and it is clean, that will be important to show when you go to sell your home in the future. Identifying the presence of smoke or ash residue is a necessary first step in being able to claim under your insurance policy, unless your insurer has already agreed that there is smoke or ash residue, and they are planning to cover the cost of remediating your property. Remember that your insurance policy protects you for damage to your property from insured perils. In this case, the insured peril would be wildfire, and the smoke and ash would be the by-products of that fire.

If you have smoke or ash damage within your home, or to the exterior of your dwelling buildings, then your insurance policy should cover the cost of remediating this damage. If you have ash on your land area, your insurance policy may not cover the cost of removal of the debris. For example, under the AMA Homeowners Excel policy, the discussion of debris removal talks about the cost of removing “debris of the property insured by this policy” as a result of the insured peril. If the debris is from the damage of homes in your neighbourhood, and not from your home, then the debris is not “debris of the property insured”. However, under the Additional Coverage provision of the AMA Homeowners Excel policy, it allows you to apply 5% in all of the limit of insurance on your dwelling to outdoor trees, shrubs, plants, and lawns on your premises. There is a limit of $1,500.00 for any one tree, shrub, plant, or lawn, including debris removal expense. There may, therefore, be some small coverage available under that policy to remove debris from the lawn.

Aside from the question relating to potential debris on your land, the real question that you will have to address is what damage has your property sustained. Connected to that question is the question of whether damage from the fire makes your dwelling unfit for occupancy while repairs are being made to your property. Coverage D of your Homeowners Policy deals with Additional Living Expenses. You will all have likely received some compensation for Additional Living Expenses to date. A general term in Coverage D is that if an Insured Peril (in this case fire) makes your dwelling unfit for occupancy while repairs are being made, then you are insured for any increase in living expenses so that your household can maintain its normal standard of living. The compensation is for a reasonable time period for the repair to take place. This is in addition to any Additional Living Expenses available for being denied access to your property (which is limited under all policies of insurance), and in addition to the mass evacuation coverage for Additional Living Expenses, which is also normally limited. The total coverage for Additional Living Expenses, whatever the cause, does not exceed the coverage level under Coverage D unless you have a blanket form of insurance coverage.

We believe that all residents who have “Green” Houses will have now had the opportunity to inspect their property to determine if there is any sign of physical damage above and beyond ash and smoke damage. Our recommendation is that if there are any signs of any other damage to your property, you should have the property inspected by a qualified home inspector who can then identify the damage that has occurred. This is an important first step in determining what needs to be done to repair your home from the damage.

If you return to your home believing that it is fit for occupancy while the repairs are being made, and then discover that you cannot live there, your entitlement for Additional Living Expenses can be reactivated, but you will have to prove that the dwelling is unfit for occupancy. Noise or dust from demolition or construction in your neighbourhood would not make your dwelling unfit for occupancy due to “an insured peril”. You need to understand as well that your insurance policy likely does not provide any coverage for ash contaminating your property as a consequence of the demolition and reconstruction activities in your area. Accordingly, if you have damage to your property which entitles you to have your home cleaned of smoke and ash debris, you may wish to schedule that cleaning after the demolition in your immediate vicinity has ended. Under the demolition order, the ash, contaminated soil, and other hazardous materials is supposed to be removed by the end of September.

Insurance

  • If you need assistance identifying who your insurance company is to start your claim, please contact:

Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) Consumer Information Line: 1-844-227-5422

            Or via email: FortMacFire@ibc.ca

  • The IBC has also published a number of FAQ sheets for fire damage insurance claims:

o   Fire Damage to Homes: http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents/Disaster/fire_damage_home_tip_sheet.pdf

o   Fire Damage to Vehicles: http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents/Disaster/fire_damage_vehicle_tip_sheet.pdf

o   Fire Damage to Businesses: http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents/Disaster/fire_damage_business_tip_sheet.pdf

o   Wildfire Safety: What You Need to Know: http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents/Brochures/Wildfire-Safety.pdf

  • Alternatively, if Cooper & Company assisted you with the purchase of your home we may have your insurance documentation on file. Please call our offices today for assistance in retrieving your insurance binder.
  • Other common contact information:

o   Aviva Insurance Claims Hotline: 1 866 692 8482

o   AMA Claim Hotline: 1 888 426 2444

o   TD Insurance Fort McMurray Relief:

o   Square One Insurance: 1-855-331-6933

Financial Assistance

Alberta Government

  • Emergency Financial Assistance will be available for evacuees in the form of prepaid debit cards from the Alberta Government. Please make sure you have registered with the Red Cross to receive updates on when and where the assistance will be made available by calling: 1-888-350-6070.  $1,250 will be available for every adult, and $500 for every dependent who was displaced by the fire.
  • Contact Alberta Supports at 1-877-644-9992 for information on available social benefit programs.
  • Evacuees may be eligible for the Emergency Needs Allowance to help cover unaffordable short-term, unforeseeable emergency expenses. If you are not already an Income Support client, you can get more information at an Alberta Works Centre. Contact them by calling 1-866-644-5135 or go to www.humanservices.alberta.ca/ABWCentres
  • Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) clients who have been receiving benefits by cheque who are now displaced by northern Alberta wildfires should contact the Athabasca AISH office at 780-675-6853.
  • Those receiving Income Support benefits by cheque who have been evacuated from their homes should call the 24-hour Income Support Contact Centre at 1-866-644-5135 or email iscc@gov.ab.ca

Canada Revenue Agency

If you require assistance with your Income Tax return, or need to have your tax return forwarded to a new address please contact the CRA by:

TIPS (Tax Information Phone Service): 1-800-267-6999

Individual Tax Enquiries: 1-800-959-8281

Business/Self-Employed Tax Enquiries: 1-800-959-5525

Although there is no special number for Fort McMurray callers we have been advised that if you tell CRA that you are from Fort McMUrrary they will direct your call to a team they have setrt up to handle Fort McMurray related calls

Tax services are also available online via My CRA Account:

Personal: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/ndvdls/myccnt/menu-eng.html

Business: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/bsnss/myccnt/menu-eng.html

We are here to help you!!

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