It’s a common question asked by anyone who goes from a house to a condo or apartment building:
I’m on the 7th floor. Why would I need sewer backup insurance? If the flood waters are rising that high, then we have much more to worry about than insurance.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you 100% need sewer backup coverage for your condo, and I’m living proof, because I just had a flood that’s led to me having to replace all the floors, some of the cabinets and a few of the walls in my condo unit, and I’m on the 23rd floor! Luckily, I had sewer backup coverage, so all I have to pay is my $500 deductible. Without insurance, the cost could have exceeded $5,000, and that’s with absolutely zero damage to my furniture and other belongings.
I left home around 8 in the morning with my daughter for a family event. When I left, everything in my condo was dry. After a day of summer fun, around 4pm, I arrived home and immediately noticed a foul smell, then a big puddle on the floor in the kitchen.
When I looked more closely I saw that although the tap wasn’t on, the kitchen sink was filled to the very top with brown/grey water (the source of the smell, no doubt), and that water was cascading over the counter like a little Niagara Falls. Well, kinda like the Falls, if the Niagara River were grey-brown and smelled like rotting meat.
At first I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that the drain had backed up. The tap was off. I was trying to find the source of the water. I stuck my arm elbow-deep into the stink-water to feel for what might be blocking the drain, but it was clear. I opened the cabinet under the sink to see if a pipe had burst. The pipes were fine, but the under-sink cabinet, and everything in it, was dripping. Anyway, it was now obvious that the cause of the flooding was a backed-up drain.
Even though I work in insurance, I didn’t automatically think I had to make an insurance claim. I got all the towels I could find and soaked up most of the standing water, then called the building superintendent. He came right up, and a plumber was there within a half hour, and quickly pinpointed the problem and fixed it.
How Does Water Back Up to the 23rd Floor?
The plumber determined that the main drain pipe for the building had a blockage between my unit and the one below me. While I was away, one or more of my upstairs neighbours (28 storey condo) used their sinks and/or dishwashers. The water had nowhere else to go but up my sink and eventually, out onto my floor. I suppose if I’d been home, I might’ve noticed my sink filling up and called a plumber before it overflowed.
Although my claim really has nothing to do with a sewer, this is just the kind of occurrence that’s ordinarily covered under sewer backup insurance. Some insurance companies include this coverage in a standard home/condo policy, but not all. When you next renew your policy, be sure to ask.
What’s Covered by Whom?
Generally speaking, if you own a condo, you have two insurance policies. The condo corporation has a policy that covers the building, and you should have your own policy that covers anything in your unit that’s not under the building’s policy. Depending on your condo’s bylaws, that could be just your belongings (furniture, clothes, dishes etc.), but it could also include items like floors, cabinets, fixtures etc., especially if they weren’t originally part of the unit. Your condo bylaws will tell you what is covered by whom.
In my case, the walls and cabinets were covered under the building, but because the laminate floor was not the original floor that came with the unit, it was under my own policy.
Important note: Due to rising premiums, most condos have been increasing the deductible on the building policy, often to as much as $25,000 or more. This means that the building portion of a relatively minor loss like mine was not insured, and the building had to pay for the cabinet and wall repairs out-of-pocket. As a unit owner, you may need to push your condo management to complete the repairs properly if they’re not going through insurance. You should also be aware that any of these uninsured repairs are paid for out of the condo corporation’s reserve fund, and will ultimately impact your monthly condo fees.