“You don’t have to file a home insurance claim if you have a house fire,” is not something you would expect to hear from insurance experts. But in the wake of the increasing fire-related fatality numbers from the Ontario Fire Marshal, we couldn’t help but ask.
First, the numbers. Between January 1 and May 4, 2020, there were 51 fire-related fatalities in Ontario—a 65% increase in comparison to the same timeframe last year. However, insurance specialists in the province aren’t reporting a surge in claims.
Now, if house-fire fatalities are up and residential fires in general are a growing concern during the pandemic, it’s reasonable to consider that some Canadians aren’t making insurance claims after a house fire—presumably because they want to avoid a potential rate increase.
Should you make an insurance claim for a house fire? Well, it depends
When an injury or fatality occurs, it’s critical that all relevant reports are made. However, if a house fire results in property damage only, you may consider handling the repairs privately. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, according to insurance broker Peter John Van Dyk, PV&V Insurance Centre in Burlington and Meester Insurance Centre in Smithville. As long as you get a proper damage assessment and arrange for professional restoration. This is not the time for a DIY job, he emphasizes.
There are times when it makes sense not to file a claim, the broker asserts—namely, when the damage is minor and a claim could negatively impact your rate or disqualify you from a discount. If you need to carry a higher deductible in order to have an affordable monthly premium, Van Dyk suggests making insurance claims for larger occurrences only. “Carry the deductible you can afford and save on the premium,” he says.
Not all brokers feel this way, and Van Dyk reiterates that a proper assessment and restoration job is absolutely necessary, whether you make an insurance claim or not. He often refers clients to trusted contractors in their region.
Not so fast: Making a fire claim can be worth it
Scott Robert Hawryliw, of SRH Litigation in Barrie, is a lawyer whose area of expertise includes uninsured claims. He suggests that after a house fire or other property damage, homeowners should contact their insurance company immediately to initiate a claim and not begin repairs on their own. Noting that individuals often take a “let’s see how it goes” approach to fixing property damage, this can backfire. “You cannot report the claim later if your repairs aren’t working out as planned.”
And when fire is involved, so is water—something that can lead to serious issues down the road. “If you had a fire that was put out using a firehose, you also have a serious flood,” Hawryliw notes. “The water damage might even be a bigger issue than the fire damage. The good news is that the water damage from putting out the fire should be included in the same claim.”