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Some homeowners affected by Fiona still making insurance payments 6 weeks after storm surge

This is all that's left of Debbie Farrell's house in Port aux Basques. (Submitted by Velda Tapp-Pretty - image credit)
This is all that's left of Debbie Farrell's house in Port aux Basques. (Submitted by Velda Tapp-Pretty - image credit)
Submitted by Velda Tapp-Pretty
Submitted by Velda Tapp-Pretty

Two homeowners in Port aux Basques hit by post-tropical storm Fiona say they've been making insurance payments on houses they'll never live in again, and they can't understand why their insurance company has delayed so long in sending out letters of denial.

The storm surge from Fiona six weeks ago destroyed Debbie Farrell's house and caused significant damage to the house owned by Velda Tapp-Pretty, who has been told that her house will have to be demolished.

Still, the two women continue to make payments on their insurance policy to Aviva Insurance, even though they say adjusters have already indicated their claims will likely be denied.

"So I've been paying insurance for a house that I haven't lived in for six weeks," said Tapp-Pretty. "There's not much compassion for people."

After CBC asked Aviva Insurance for a response to the homeowners' concerns, the company contacted the women to say their letters of denial are now in the mail.

Hoping against hope

Debbie Farrell and her husband Robert Dicks have made two insurance payments since Fiona.

For Farrell, part of the reason for continuing to make payments was that she was holding hope, after being told that there was a 99 per cent chance that her policy would not cover the destruction of her home.

"I'm paying it because there's a one per cent chance," Farrell said early Thursday, before she was notified that her letter of denial is in the mail.

Tapp-Pretty's understanding was that she had to keep paying or she risk not getting the paperwork she needs in order to apply for the government's disaster financial assistance.

"If I don't pay and I cancel my insurance, I may not get my letter that I need to send into the government," said Tapp-Pretty earlier this week.

Submitted by Velda Tapp-Pretty
Submitted by Velda Tapp-Pretty

Held up from getting aid money

The delay in getting letters of denial from Aviva until now has meant that the two homeowners haven't been able to apply for disaster financial assistance.

A property has to be considered a total loss and one for which insurance won't pay out before the application process can move forward.

Other people in southwestern Newfoundland affected by Fiona are in similar situations, waiting on paperwork to be able to proceed.

Insurance advice

CBC asked Aviva Insurance to respond to the homeowners' concerns. In an emailed statement, Munn Insurance, a broker acting on behalf of Aviva, said a homeowner can cancel their insurance policy at any time, even after a loss.

"This won't impact their claim. However, if they maintained their policy they would retain their liability coverage. This is valuable coverage that could help them defend legal action that might be taken against them," reads the statement "In addition, if the homeowner maintained their policy they could also have coverage for their personal property regardless of whether that property is still in their home or located elsewhere."

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says there are a variety of reasons a homeowner should keep making payments even after a house is destroyed and even when the policy won't cover them.

For example, according to Gloria Haydock, IBC's manager of consumer and industry relations, the policy may also cover outbuildings like a shed or garage that escaped damage, or the contents of the home, if anything was salvaged and moved elsewhere. She said maintaining the policy may also be a requirement of a homeowner's mortgage contract.

"If your home is deemed a total loss, most insurance representatives really do suggest that you maintain the insurance policy on the home," said Haydock.

Haydock said it's best for homeowners to seek guidance about what to do and when with regard to maintaining their policy and keeping up payments after a loss.

"Every circumstance is unique and families have different needs as they rebuild their lives," said Haydock.

As for why letters of denial in a disaster-affected area would take so long to be mailed out, Haydock said investigations into insurance claims can be complex, may require assessments by structural engineers or other experts, and can simply take time.

She said anyone with general questions about insurance can call the IBC consumer information centre at 1-844-227-5422.

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