Homeowner wins delay of heritage designation, citing high insurance premiums

·4 min read

A MidlandToday article alerted Alex Cipressi that the town had approved his Midland century home for an Ontario heritage designation.

A heritage designation is typically a source of pride, but for this homeowner it became a cause of stress.

Cipressi was shocked to be informed by his insurance company that his premiums would be doubling - all due to the designation.

Recently, he was finally able to obtain a postponement on the move after months of talking to council members and those on the Midland Heritage Committee, which recommends designations.

His appeal to the committee put a temporary halt on the next steps of such a designation: A notice of intent to designate followed by a bylaw to finalize the move.

“The property is not (yet) designated under the Ontario Heritage Act,” town planner Angela Zhao told heritage committee members at their meeting last month.

“It hasn't proceeded since then, mainly due to COVID shutting us down. During that time, the owner of the property contacted us, having not received notice during the last few times when we had attempted to communicate with him.”

She said Cipressi reached out requesting the postponement after having an opportunity to study and understand the impact such a designation would have.

"We can then still make a decision as to whether we feel it’s necessary to designate the property,” said Zhao. “We can certainly recommend something different to council.”

Cipressi, a resident of Mississauga, made his case to convince the committee to postpone the designation.

"I don't think heritage is the best thing at this time,” he said. “I think council has a lot on their plate these days. We should probably respect them and let them do what they have to do and maybe when things are a little better, let's re-gather in a few years time, and we'll get this thing designated if it's important to the community.”

Cipressi said the designation came at a difficult time and added to his pandemic-related stress with his insurance premiums for the home doubling.

“Mr. (Norman) Playfair was an engineer, so he did a good job for the most part,” he said, talking about former owner Norman Lyon Playfair, who was an engineer as well as president and eventual sole owner of Cameron-Playfair Lumber Company. “But after 100 years things start to sit and settle. I've done everything to mitigate the potential harm and risk that could pop up against the home, but the insurance companies don't see that.”

Cipressi said he understands the 5,200-square-foot house at 414 King St. wasn’t built under the Ontario Building Code introduced in 1974, but that it's a really good house.

Unfortunately for him, he said, insurance companies don't see it the same way.

“They're fearful of (old houses),” Cipressi said. “I don't know why. I've done everything I can to look after the home. I've upgraded the electrical, and like I said, the plumbing was already done. We got away from the leaking cast-iron pipes and down in the basement I poured a new concrete floor.”

However, insurance expert Dave Mink told MidlandToday it’s not because the home is any worse off.

“It's just that the value to replace it has to be so much higher than it would be for a home of the same square footage built with materials today,” said the Midland broker with Mink Insurance.

As a broker, Mink said he does work with companies that insure heritage homes, but it’s usually at a very high premium.

“It's usually because if it's designated heritage, the insurance company is obligated to put it back in the same position as it was before,” he noted. “It has to be put back with the same workmanship and quality of products that it had when it was originally built. People nowadays don't build with the same skillset as they did 100 years ago.

“It's really hard to come across that particular stuff so you almost have to have those things custom done,” said Mink. “Houses back then had a lot of stone and plaster in them and builders today don't build with that kind of material anymore, so it takes a lot to find a contractor who can actually repair a home of that vintage.”

Finally, when Cipressi had made his case to the committee, they agreed the designation be postponed until June 2021 and revisited every six months until the homeowner was ready to go ahead with the designation.

“I think that's fair at this time,” Cipressi said.

The recommendation will now be forwarded to council for approval at an upcoming council meeting.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com