B.C. Liberal MLA calls for fast action on soaring strata insurance rates

The Liberal opposition is prodding the B.C. government to take immediate action to help those condo owners being hit with 300 to 400 per cent increases in insurance rates for their strata corporations.

MLA Todd Stone led the opposition charge in the legislature’s question period on Tuesday and introduced a private-members bill of “practical, doable steps,” that could be taken immediately.

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Finance Minister Carole James said during question period that the province is working with strata corporations, the insurance industry and B.C. Financial Services Authority on measures to address an issue that is “occurring across the country.”

Stone, however, said that is “cold comfort to the thousands of British Columbians who really truly feel that they’re at risk of losing their homes.”

“One thing we didn’t hear today (in the legislature) was ‘we’re going to act,’” Stone said later, charging that he wasn’t sensing a sense of urgency in the government response.

In his bill, Stone proposed to tweak the Strata Property Amendment Act to more clearly define a “standard unit” that strata corporations are responsible for as the basic subfloor, walls, pipes, utilities and systems in a building, leaving individual owners liable for replacement of furnishings.

Other provinces have done this, said Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., which has helped pare the enormous values that strata corporations are insuring for. Gioventu said it also prompts more condo owners to take out homeowners insurance, which many owners don’t do now.

Stone also proposed requiring insurance companies provide quotes for insurance 30 days before renewal, which is something strata corporations don’t get now and has been a huge source of stress.

“The day their policies terminate is the day they’re getting notice,” Gioventu said.

Stone also called on government to commit money to a water-damage prevention program that would be not unlike assistance for energy retrofits. The measures “are not going to solve the problems,” Stone acknowledged, but the bill “is a small step.”

James, in a statement, said she welcomes any ideas that “might help make life more affordable.” However, “on first reading, it isn’t clear how the opposition’s proposal would bring down costs in the near term,” James said.

For instance, the bill as written seems to leave out a lot of specific infrastructure in its definition of basic unit and the proposal seems similar to one by the Insurance Brokers Association of B.C., which it acknowledged wouldn’t directly address the rising premiums and deductibles.

“But we will continue to review the bill,” James said. Gioventu said “the grim reality” is that “there is no immediate solution to ease up the pressure on the public,” and any of the changes made now would take at least a year to take effect.

“But a private members bill is a way to push (the issue) up to the front burner,” Gioventu said.

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