Duplex Homes

Q: I live in a duplex ('patio home' or townhouse) that was badly damaged in the fire. I want to rebuild, but my neighbour doesn't. What are my options?

A: This situation has more to do with property law (or land titles) than it does with insurance.

With a duplex, you share a common side with a neighbour. The insurer of each side of the duplex is responsible for covering its policyholder's side of the structure (three finished exterior walls and one common wall with no exterior finishing, half of the roof, as well as half of the foundation, if the units share a foundation).

In the event of a loss, your insurer's obligation is to get your home and belongings back to the same state they were in before the fire.

If your duplex neighbour doesn't want to rebuild, you may be able to build a single-family structure on your site (provided this is allowed by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo's planning and development office). If this is the case, your insurer would cover the cost of the three exterior walls and a portion of the foundation – because that's what you had before. You would need to cover the cost of the fourth exterior wall (exterior finishing) and the remaining portion of the foundation.

According to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (as of August 25 according to the RMWB website) the Recovery Committee is working with Administration and the Wood Buffalo Recovery Task Force to clarify the steps for duplex owners. There are a number of complicating factors in the decision-making process to allow a change from multi-family home to single-family dwelling.

  • When you rebuild your home, you will need to meet the municipal Land Use bylaw and Alberta Building Code that are in effect at the time of your permit application.
  • Your new home design needs to meet setback requirements (the distance from your property line to your home) for a single-family dwelling on a property sized for part of a multi-family home. Multi-family home lots are much smaller, which will come into conflict with setback requirements for single-family homes.

Any disputes with your duplex neighbour with respect to rebuilding can be resolved either through an alternative dispute resolution process, such as mediation, or through formal legal proceedings. The rights and responsibilities of property owners of free-standing or condo townhomes with respect to repair and rebuilding obligations is a matter governed by provincial and municipal property law. 

If you don't know who the registered property owner is for your duplex neighbour, go to any RMWB Registry office. You will not be given contact information for that individual, but you can then use that person's name to reach out through personal connections or social media to reach them.