Buying homeowners insurance? Ask these 4 questions first

Buying homeowners insurance? Ask these 4 questions first

By Sarah Schlichter Of Nerdwallet

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Purchasing insurance may not be as fun as choosing new furniture and paint colours, but it’s a critical part of the homebuying process. Your homeowners insurance policy is a financial safety net in case of a disaster, so you’ll want to ask a few important questions to make sure you have the coverage you need at a price you can afford.

WHAT’S THE DWELLING COVERAGE PER SQUARE FOOT?

Imagine that a fire burned your house to the ground and your policy didn’t pay out enough to rebuild it. That could happen if your dwelling coverage _ the part of your policy that covers the structure of your home _ is too low.

To prevent this, don’t simply accept the initial dwelling coverage amount an insurance company recommends. “Insurance companies use replacement cost calculators, but they’re not 100% accurate by any means,” says Ryan Andrew, president of The Andrew Agency, an independent insurance agency serving Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

For a more accurate estimate, ask your insurer to send someone to your house for a replacement evaluation, suggests Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a non-profit that advocates for insurance consumers. You can also ask a local builder who specializes in new construction to estimate your home’s rebuilding cost per square foot.

Once you’ve chosen an appropriate dwelling limit, consider adding extended replacement cost coverage to your policy. With this coverage, your insurer will pay 10% to 50% more than your dwelling coverage amount to help you rebuild. This could save you thousands of dollars if building prices spike for unforeseen reasons such as a lumber shortage or high demand after a disaster.

A typically pricier option, guaranteed replacement cost coverage, will pay to rebuild your home regardless of expense.

DO I HAVE MULTIPLE DEDUCTIBLES?

Homeowners may not realize that on some policies, higher deductibles may apply for claims due to wind, hail, named storms or other disasters.

For example, say a hurricane causes wind damage to your roof. Your insurance policy might have a wind deductible worth 5% of your dwelling coverage rather than the $1,000 deductible that applies to most other claims, Andrew says. So if your house were covered for $250,000, you’d have to pay for the first $12,500 of damage before your insurer paid anything.

Getting quotes from multiple insurers may help you reduce or eliminate these high deductibles.

WHAT ISN’T COVERED?

You might be unpleasantly surprised by your policy’s exclusions.  “Flood insurance, which is excluded on almost all homeowners policies, is definitely a big one,” Andrew says, adding that this is especially important for homeowners with finished basements.

Even houses that aren’t near a body of water could experience flooding during heavy downpours, Andrew says, and a standard homeowners policy is unlikely to cover any damage.

You can buy flood insurance through companies that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. The program’s average flood claim payout was $52,000 in 2019.

Andrew also suggests adding water backup coverage to your policy. This pays for damage due to water backing up into your house from sewer lines, sump pumps or other water lines.

Another common coverage gap involves keeping up with current building laws.  “If you have to make improvements when you’re repairing or replacing (your home) because the codes have changed since your house was built, a typical policy will exclude that,” Bach says.

Though this can be particularly expensive for older homes,  “even a house that was built five years ago is out of code,” Andrew says.

Both Bach and Andrew recommend adding ordinance or law coverage to your policy to handle these expenses.

HOW CAN I SAVE?

While having the right coverage is generally more important than paying the bare minimum, there are discounts to make your policy more affordable. Andrew suggests buying your car, homeowners and other insurance through the same company to take advantage of bundling discounts, which can save you 20% or more.

“The best way to bring down the price without sacrificing coverage is to raise your deductible,” Bach says. Being willing to pay for smaller repairs yourself rather than filing claims will help keep your premiums low.

If you’re confused about coverage and discounts, reach out to an insurance agent to talk through your options. “Take a little extra time to understand what it is that you’re purchasing,” Andrew says. “For most people a house is the most expensive asset they have.”

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sarah Schlichter is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: sschlichter?nerdwallet.com.

RELATED LINKS:

NerdWallet: Homeowners insurance: What it is and what it covers http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-home-insurance

National Flood Insurance Program: Find a flood insurance provider https://www.floodsmart.gov/flood-insurance/providers

 

Employers clamp down on ‘ambiguous’ mask rules as more infections tied to workplaces

By Brett Bundale

THE CANADIAN PRESS

On the factory floor, masks were optional.

Until last month, workers at TEC Business Solutions’s corrugated packaging plant in Mississauga, Ont. donned a mask, underwent a COVID-19 screening, had a temperature check and sanitized their hands but once inside and at their own stations, they could remove their masks.

“It gets really warm in there and it can be hard to breathe with a mask,” said Mike Prencipe, the chief operating officer at TEC Business Solutions. “We said if workers can physically distance, they can remove their masks.”

Then two shop workers tested positive for COVID-19, followed by two office employees.

“Everyone around them had to quarantine,” Prencipe said, noting that the bulk of the plant’s workforce had to stay home for two weeks. “We’ve now made it our own policy that if you’re in the plant, you have to wear a mask at all times.”

The small outbreak at the Ontario packaging plant illustrates how workplaces are emerging as a driving force in the second wave of the pandemic.

A growing number of infections can be traced back to workplaces, including in manufacturing, warehouse and shipping facilities, according to Ontario data on active outbreaks by setting.

The province declared a second state of emergency Tuesday amid rising COVID-19 case counts and tightened rules around masks in workplaces among other measures.

More than 10,000 workers have contracted COVID-19 due to work-related exposures, statistics from the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board show.

One of the issues that appears to be fuelling workplace infections is the lack of clarity or consistency surrounding mask-wearing rules in workplaces in Canada.

Across the country, each province and in some cases individual health units or workplace safety boards offer varying guidance on masks at work.

It’s a patchwork that can be confusing. Multiple business operators say they want to stick to the rules and keep workers safe, but have found the regulations unclear.

The  “ambiguous” messaging around mask-wearing in the workplace prompted the office manager at TEC Business Solutions to repeatedly call public health over the last several months to ensure they were following rules, Prencipe said.

“We wanted to follow the protocols and keep our employees safe,” he said. “They told us we were taking the right precautions.”

Still, Prencipe made the call to tighten the mask rules in his workplace following the December outbreak, a move that Ontario appears to have followed.

In response to the “alarming and exceptional circumstances,” the province said individuals are now required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses at all times.

Ontario is also stepping up enforcement measures. Provincial workplace inspectors are expected to focus on areas of high transmission, including break rooms, and issue tickets those not wearing a mask indoors.

Indeed, Prencipe said the virus may have been spread in either the company’s lunchroom or bathroom, spaces that both plant and office workers access.

Yet other provinces continue to only require masks in workplaces where employees are interacting with the public, or if two meters of distance cannot be maintained between workers.

In Nova Scotia, for example, the provincial mask requirement applies to spaces the public has access to  not private spaces.

“We encourage business owners/employers to set their own policies for private spaces,” Health Department spokeswoman Marla MacInnis said in an email.

New Brunswick city rebuilding its IT system after major cyber attack in November

Saint John, N.B., is rebuilding its computer network rather than submitting to criminals who launched a cyber attack against the city in November.

City manager John Collin updated council Monday on the city’s efforts to rebuild its IT system following a ransomware attack; he said no ransom was paid.

Hackers launch ransomware attacks by infecting computers with software and often demand money in exchange for the attack to end.

Collin said the city’s network was disconnected from the internet as soon as the Nov. 13 attack was discovered, and he said it’s not believed any personal identifying information such as banking details was stolen.

“I’m happy to report we have no indications whatsoever that there was any spread of the ransomware from any city-owned assets or systems to others,” he told council.

Collin wouldn’t say what parts of the network were affected by the attack or provide any information he said could help the “hostile actors.”

“We do not want to give to these criminals any information that could help refine their tactics and techniques, nor do we wish to provide such information to copycats,” he said.

Collin said, however, that the attack penetrated deeply into the city’s IT system, and therefore, he added, rebuilding the network was more cost effective than repairing the damage.

“Instead of repair, we have decided to build an entirely new network,” he told council. “Not only will this afford us the opportunity to take advantage of all the latest innovations in cybersecurity and in network design, it will also remove the risk of any virus remnant that could occur if we took the approach of a repaired system.”

The cost of the network rebuild, Collin said, will be covered by insurance and the city’s IT reserve fund. “We will not need to adjust up any yearly budget or alter our service delivery to our community because of this IT attack,” he said.

The rebuild of the IT system is expected to take a few more months. Collin said the full cost of the attack and the system rebuild is still being evaluated, adding that he’ll report to council when the total amount is known.

Ontario promises action to address rising insurance rates as critics urge regulation

By Shawn Jeffords

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Under pressure to address rising commercial insurance rates blamed on the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford promised this week to take action to stop what he called “gouging” by some companies in the sector.

Ford twice this week has told insurance firms to rein in what he described as  “astronomical” rate increases to businesses or outright denial of coverage.

His comments followed calls this week from various municipal and opposition politicians for the province to clamp down on the insurance industry with further regulations.

Ford expressed anger Thursday, using banquet halls as an example of an industry hard-hit by the pandemic that now also faces sky-rocketing insurance premiums.

“They’re absolutely just refusing to insure people, we don’t play that game,” Ford said.  “You guys don’t get to get all the cream and gravy … and just slough off everything else and think we aren’t going to insure it.”

When pressed for details of his action plan, Ford said he was working with Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who is expected to deliver the provincial budget next month, to address the issue.

“I’m on to these guys,” Ford said.  “The people are the priority, not the big insurance companies making gazillions of dollars. So I’m coming.”

Phillips’ office said this week that while the province regulates the auto insurance sector, it currently does not oversee commercial insurance.

A spokeswoman for the minister said the government was watching the insurance companies and their handling of the needs of the hospitality sector during the pandemic.

Emily Hogeveen said Phillips had also had discussions with the head of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario – the province’s fiscal regulator – on the issue.

“The minister’s message to insurance companies has been clear we expect you to treat your customers fairly. We will be closely monitoring the situation to ensure companies are adhering to a high standard of conduct,” she said in a statement. “All options are on the table.”

A spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada said claims costs for commercial insurance were increasing across a number of sectors before COVID-19.

The pandemic has compounded “affordability and availability” of insurance, Steve Kee said in a statement.

“Insurance claims costs in general are on the rise, while Canada’s insurers have been working to keep rate increases to a minimum,” he said.

Kee said the commercial insurance market is competitive and it could be possible for businesses to find lower rates by shopping around.

“IBC continues to work with our members and other partners to find solutions to ensure that commercial insurance remains affordable,” he said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has pressed the province to step in and protect restaurants and food delivery services, which are reporting dramatic insurance rate hikes.

“I fully support any action to be undertaken by the province to help address this, to support businesses who are simply trying to be good and continuing customers of these insurance companies,” he said.

Long-time Ontario legislator Jim Wilson, a former interim leader of the Progressive Conservative party who now sits as an independent, made a surprising call earlier this week for strict regulation of the insurance sector.

Wilson said he thought deeply before making the impassioned request during a session at Queen’s Park.

But after hearing from a number of condominium corporations in his riding north of Toronto about dramatic increases to their insurance rates he felt he had to act.

“What they’re hearing from brokers is that the industry blames that on COVID claims and severe weather claims,” he said. “That’s just bogus … I mean, they can’t be having COVID claims yet, it’s just too early. They need to justify the need for these exorbitant rates.”

Wilson, who has held a seat in the legislature since 1990, said governments of all political stripes have promised and failed to regulate insurance rates because the industry has a powerful lobby.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever truly had the Ministry of Finance or the regulator take an independent look at what their finances are and get to the bottom of why rates are doubling,” he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has been advocating for further regulation of the industry during the pandemic, pressing the government to protect businesses.

“The insurance industry has been running amok in this province for years now,” she said.  “‘Mr. Phillips needs to step up to the plate and do something about it.”

Ford’s comments come after a group representing Ontario’s long-term care homes said the facilities are having trouble securing liability insurance for COVID-19, a situation which could force some of them to close.

Insurance Bureau of Canada: 40% of Calgary hailstorm claims still outstanding

 

“I have serious concerns about how many of these homeowners will get through the winter without having further damage to their homes and the high energy costs that they will face because their homes just aren’t as adequately protected.

“Many of these individuals work two jobs to make ends meet. So this is a challenge — on getting your kids to school, working about, aging family members or grandparents that may reside with you [and] fixing your home and being able to do all that, and having challenges working with insurance and then getting contractors to rebuild these homes.”

Pamela Fischer lives in Saddleridge. While she’s one of the luckier ones who recently had her home repaired, she’s concerned for her neighbours who are still waiting for repairs.

She and her husband Jason are part of the Hail Action Committee. They’re calling for more action from officials and want to see support in the way of a $5,000 interest-free loan available to all homeowners. They also want more resources made available.

“The community is still in the throes of recovery… There are kids in these homes. There’s generational families in these homes, and we’re [in the] middle of a pandemic. So not only that, how are they going to heat their homes? The whole home has been subjugated to outdoor conditions. It’s horrible,” Jason said.

In a statement, the province said it is continuing to encourage Albertans to work with their insurance providers.

“Calgarians have been hit hard by this disastrous hailstorm and our hearts go out to all those affected. Albertans pay insurance and rely on it for situations just like these. We continue to encourage Albertans to work with their insurance providers for damages caused by the storm, and our MLAs remain committed to assisting with this process,” municipal affairs press secretary Justin Marshall said.

READ MORE AT GLOBAL NEWS

Ontario to provide COVID 19 liability protection to workers and some organizations

Ontario to provide COVID 19 liability protection to workers and some organizations

By Shawn Jeffords and Liam Casey

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Health-care workers, businesses and non-profits could receive liability protection against COVID-19-related lawsuits under legislation proposed by the Ontario government Tuesday, but critics said the bill would result in extra protection for long-term care providers who failed residents during the pandemic.

Attorney General Doug Downey said that if passed, the proposed law would ensure that anyone making an “honest effort” to follow public health guidelines while working or volunteering would not be exposed to liability.

He noted, however, that the bill would not prevent lawsuits against those who willfully or through “gross negligence” endangered others during the pandemic.

“This is not going to help anybody who’s a bad actor, people who ignore the public health guidance,” he said. “This is really to help those who are doing things in good faith.”

The government said health-care workers and institutions, front line retail workers, charities, and non-profits would be covered by the bill. The legislation would also cover coaches, volunteers and minor sports associations, and would be retroactive to March.

In terms of long-term care providers, Downey said the bill would cover those who saw “inadvertent transmission” of COVID-19 in their facilities.

“Those who act in good faith and make honest efforts will receive a level of protection,” Downey said.

“But this will not help people who are being sued for wrongful death, assault and battery, or failure to provide necessities, or fraud or charter violations, or trespass to the person.”

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents more than 70 per cent of nursing homes in the province, has been asking for such measures for months, CEO Donna Duncan said.

The proposed law will not absolve any provider of responsibility when it comes to issues of gross negligence, she said.

“Liability protection is a necessary measure to stabilize and renew Ontario’s entire long-term care sector,” Duncan said in a statement. “Without it, many insurance companies will cease coverage, as they have already begun to do, putting homes across the province at risk and jeopardizing their expansion and renewal.”

COVID-19 has killed 1,907 long-term care residents since the pandemic began. There has been a recent surge of cases in the second wave, with 87 homes currently experiencing outbreaks.

Dozens of homes across the province face numerous lawsuits, including several class-action suits with unproven claims in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said it supports the legislation, which it called balanced and responsible.

Steve Kee, a bureau spokesman, said the legislation illustrates the government’s support for entrepreneurs and hardworking Ontarians as they focus on getting through the COVID-19 threat.

“Today’s legislation is intended to protect the good actors _ those who follow public health guidelines _ from certain civil liability,” he said in a statement.

“As tabled, it would not protect bad actors against other legal consequences, including criminal charges.”

Michael Smitiuch, a personal injury lawyer who represents several families who are suing long-term care homes after losing loved ones to COVID-19, criticized the government’s proposed law.

“Losing a loved one during this pandemic because of mistreatment and lack of attention is already devastating to families, but having them die in vain will be even worse if they can’t seek justice for them,” Smitiuch said.

He said the government is essentially “raising the bar” on negligence to a “high degree of negligence.”

“This will create an unnecessary layer of protection for bad actors,” Smitiuch said. “These changes will help insurance companies save money and will hurt victims and their families.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was shocked by the new bill and that if a long-term care home failed in its duty to protect a resident, it should be liable.

“This bill protects the for-profit long-term care homes,” she said. “It protects the backside of the Ford government, but what they never did was protect the seniors in long-term care.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he is concerned that the bill will protect the “bad actors” the government says will still be held accountable.

“Negligent long-term care homes do not deserve a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card for the lives that were stolen on their watch,” he said in a statement.

 

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