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The importance of flood and sewer backup insurance in a condo

overflowing sewer in street

Flooding has become an increasing problem in Ontario, with rainwaters exceeding the capacity of the city sewage system and causing several incidents of flooding in the last few years. It’s easy to understand how that would affect a homeowner, as those waters could enter your basement and foundation and cause many problems. However in a condominium you might wonder how this might be a problem, especially if you’re several floors above ground level.

Why is it flooding in Ontario?

rainwater flooding street

In recent years, we’ve been seeing a dramatic rise in the incidents caused by flooding. Experts have explained that the water comes from melting snow and heavy rainfalls that can’t be carried away by the existing infrastructure. Some cite the climatic changes causing an increase in water levels, and some cite the problem being the aging sewage systems and lack of natural green landscape to help absorb water. Whatever the reason, we’ve seen an increase in floods across Ontario in the last few years and have already seen warnings about this being a risk in 2020.

An ongoing problem in the Greater Toronto Area

There are many articles on the ongoing problem, such as this one from the Toronto Star, and it emphasizes how serious the problem can be when water starts rising. Water has risen above street level in some incidents across Ontario, so it’s easy to see how underground levels such as parking lots and subways could be at even greater risk. In fact, it was estimated that flooding caused $1 billion in damage in Ontario in 2018 (source: https://www.canadianunderwriter.ca/catastrophes/ontario-already-near-1-billion-insured-damage-2018-1004136772/).

The threat to condominiums

flooded basement

Although water damage from flooding and sewer backup may not seem like it could affect your highrise condo unit, there are actually several ways it can directly and indirectly affect you.

(1) Flooding in underground parking can directly affect you if your car or storage locker is submerged, and we have seen examples in Ontario where water has flooded into several floors of a parking garage. The sewers in the parking garage can also back up, and we’ve seen instances in Ontario where the pressure was great enough that water sprayed up out of the drains in parking garages!

(2) The waste water from every condo unit flows into a large drain line in the building called the Main Stack. In detached homes there is also a main drain line for all the dirty water but it only needs to take care of one family’s waste, so in a condo building that Main Stack has a very important role in taking away waste water for many families. If there is a clog in the condo building Main Stack, the waste water from all the units above the clog would drain into the path of least resistance. If your unit is on that next path of least resistance, you may find that the upper units’ dirty water will start backing into your unit!

(3) Also, sewer backup problems can impact common areas of your building, which will indirectly affect you as a condo owner. Condominium shared spaces are payed for through the condo fees, and those fees cover things such as maintenance and upkeep, as well as paying for a Master Condominium Insurance Policy or “Master Policy” to protect the shared areas not including your own unit. As a condo unit owner you would also buy a separate policy that covers your own unit and any belongings you have inside, and these policies work with each other to make sure your bases are covered inside and outside of your unit.

Loss Assessment Coverage

In some cases, the Master Policy is insufficient to cover a major loss to a common area, or there is a substantial deductible to pay before the Master Policy will respond to pay for damages. In those cases the condominium board would ask the condominium unit owners to spread the additional costs. The Condo Loss Assessment Coverage, which is part of your condo unit owner’s policy, would respond in those cases to help pay those additional costs. While most policies include some basic coverage, it’s a good idea to double-check how much coverage you may have. Additionally, your Loss Assessment Coverage may only respond if it is a peril that you’re insured for so it’s important to have that type of event covered under your policy, which is why we always include flood and sewer backup coverage in our clients’ policies.

In one of the floods in 2018 there was over $80 million in damage which included several floors of parking garages and submerged vehicles. With the increase in flooding in Ontario it’s becoming a greater risk that there could be flood or sewer backup damage to many areas in a condominium building, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered for any direct and indirect losses.


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