MP pitches plight of St. Lazare family
Homeowner lashes out at insurer, firefighters
Nathalie and Bianca Gagnon and Allan Bassenden in front of their trailer alongside 1610 Leduc. “It’s inhumane to live like this,” says Nathalie Gagnon.
by JULIE CADIEUX
ST. LAZARE — Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Jamie Nicholls has gone to bat for a family living in a trailer alongside the ruins of their Leduc St. home in hopes the community will rally to their support.
Allan Bassenden, his wife Joni Malley, adult daughter Nathalie Gagnon and her daughter Bianca were burned out of their home last March after firefighters from St. Lazare, Les Cèdres, Vaudreuil-Dorion and Rigaud responded to a call for a garage fire at 10:44 a.m. March 22. The home, its contents, pets, Bassendon’s two vehicles and Gagnon’s pickup truck were lost. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
Their insurer, after advancing some $10,000 to cover emergency costs, cancelled their coverage and rejected their claim, citing Bassenden’s admission he was running a business repairing cars in the garage in violation of his homeowner’s policy.
Since then, Bassenden, his wife, 32 year-old daughter and 12 year-old granddaughter have been living in an old trailer behind the fire-ravaged home after having been evicted from their Vaudreuil-Dorion rental. A generous neighbour is allowing them to draw electricity.
Since then, says Bassenden, he’s been preparing the trailer for the coming winter even though he’s expecting to be informed of St. Lazare’s bylaw prohibiting residents from living in trailers parked on their property.
In July, the Bassenden family took their plight to their newly elected NDP MP. As a result, L’Aiguillage has offered a temporary shelter to the family for two weeks (from August 15 to September 1) and L’Actuel has offered free clothing.
Firefighters from four municipalities took 90 minutes to gain control of the fire which gutted Bassenden’s Leduc Street home March 22, but not before they made sure no one was trapped inside. Bassenden says he’s thinking of suing the municipality because they didn’t get water on the building quickly enough. Meanwhile, his insurer has refused his claim and cancelled his policy.
“The Bassenden family is enduring a very difficult situation and we are conscious of the complexity of their case,” Nicholls said. “Despite the complexity of the situation, I can’t see how one can ignore them by thinking time will lead them to figure something out. This is precisely why my team is doing its best to find this family much needed help and resources.”
Nicholls, who has yet to meet with the family, is under the impression they’ll be homeless after Sept. 1, “just when the 12 year-old granddaughter returns to school.” He’s appealing for food, lodging and help with Bianca’s school supplies and tuition costs.
A representative of St. Lazare’s urban planning and zoning department confirms that although there is a bylaw prophibiting people from living in trailers parked on their property, it provides an exception for residents whose homes are damaged or destroyed. They may live in a trailer on their property until either the insurance matters are settled and/or new construction has begun.
That may not apply to Bassenden. The day he contacted his insurance broker about his claim, an adjuster interviewed him about the fire. Shortly thereafter, the family was able to rent a home in Vaudreuil and purchase some immediate necessities with the first instalment. When Bassenden called to inquire how much longer it would take for the rest of the $900,000 to be released, he was informed by phone and later in a letter that his insurer was terminating his policy and he would see no more money. The reason given: his homeowner policy specifically excluded any business activity.
“They said …I was running a business in my home repairing cars in the garage, but I never had my own business,” he insists. “How would I even have time or be able to? I used to work full time downtown and then I got injured.”
In 2007 while building an extension on his home, Bassenden claims he fell and hurt himself badly, requiring almost a year of hospital care and rehabilitation. Due to some complications with another injury and then his company moving, he’s been out of work for a year. Gagnon isn’t working.
According to Bassenden, the insurance company “twisted his words to get out of paying the claim.” In an April 29 letter, the insurer quotes Bassenden: “During our investigation, you acknowledged that the garage was used to conduct an automobile repair business… in short, there is no doubt that the very nature of the business activity that took place on your property represented a material fact that would have influenced ________ in its assessment of the risk.”
The letter ends with a threat to claw back the $10,000 advance if Bassenden persists in his claim. “While [we] do not currently intent to claim reimbursement of that payment as it would be in our right given the abovementioned position, [we reserve] the right to do so in the future, should [our] position be challenged.”
Bassenden claims he and his wife have hired a lawyer to fight the insurer. They also say they plan to sue St. Lazare for negligence. “The firefighters stood around watching the house burn for half an hour before hosing it down,” Bassenden said, adding that the fire hydrant closest to the house doesn’t work.
According to the March 23 Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette report, flames were already well advanced when St. Lazare’s trucks arrived. “There was a fire in the garage,” said emergency services director Daniel Boyer. “It was completely engulfed in flames, the fire was spreading to the house.”
Firefighters immediately entered the house to verify reports that people may have been inside. “We were informed that we were missing one person in the call so we did a search and rescue inside the building.
The search turned up nobody and firefighters turned their efforts to extinguishing the fire, which took about 90 minutes to get under control.
Even at the scene, Bassenden questioned the speed at which firefighters got water on the fire. “Apparently the department was here [quickly] but it took them over half an hour just to start spraying the house when they got here,” he told reporter Derek Kreimes.