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Cottage life has taken on a new meaning during COVID-19 – it’s not just a place to relax.
More Canadians are using seasonal properties as a scenic place to work remotely from home. These “fluid” living arrangements means talking to your broker about the risks involved with keeping these properties open longer and shuttling between the primary residence and the cottage.
“Normally at this time of year we have focused on winterizing and closing up the cottages, but with the work environment being more flexible, and people working from home, some people who have cottages are going to try to keep them open longer,” Amy Graham, national property underwriting manager for RSA Canada, told Canadian Underwriter in a recent interview. “They may try to stay there over the winter. Their living arrangements or their working arrangements are basically fluid.”
The impact of working from “home” – in both primary and (winterized) seasonal residences – may have a variety of impacts on claims and coverage into 2021, Graham said.
“Because of COVID, it does lessen the occupancy risk,” Graham said. “Normally, seasonals are not visited as much during the winter. But now we’re finding that people are using their seasonals quite a bit because they can’t go on vacation, they can’t travel very far, and so we are actually seeing some of the risks that might have existed with seasonal being a little bit reduced because now they are not unoccupied for long periods.”
For example, she said, Canadians may now spend more time at the cottage doing maintenance, such as cleaning eavestroughs, breaking up ice dams, making sure animals don’t build nests in the porches, checking for cracks in the foundation, and making sure burst pipes are dealt with immediately.
But while some water damage and theft claims may be reduced, others may be on the rise for seasonal properties in the winter, Graham says.
“There are concerns about wood-burning heating,” Graham said. “At the beginning of the heating season, no matter where you are using those appliances, you need to make sure to have the unit professionally cleaned and inspected at the beginning of the heating season and even during the season, because a majority of the fires that happen from wood heat are from chimneys and flues that have a lot of creosote (a wood preservative) buildup. It’s something that a lot of people forget about until they use the stove and then the worst can happen.”
Clients also need to be aware of electrical fires and how to prevent them, Graham said, pointing to a tip sheet that the insurer created earlier this year.
Seasonal property owners should talk to their brokers about steps they are taking to maintain their seasonal properties, where they are currently living; and whether they have plans to renovate one property while they live in the other.
“Whether (owners) are living in their homes or cottages during the winter, they may want to do renovations,” she said. “In that case, our advice is that they hire professionals and to notify their broker … when they are making changes to their property.”
If you’re self-employed and working at your winterized, seasonal property, Graham suggests talking to your broker about whether you need business coverage.
“If you’re not self-employed, and you are just working in Place A instead of Place B, you probably don’t have an issue with coverage. You’re probably fine,” Graham added. “But some clients we find have a small business, or are operating a small business, or are self-employed, and they don’t have business insurance.”
Bottom line? Talk to your broker to ensure you have adequate coverage.
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