2004: ME: Homeowners’ insurance nonrenewal because of wood stove in garage fire hazard

In RE:

Ronald & Peggy Sirois
vs.
Concord General Mutual Insurance Company

 

FINDINGS AND DECISION
Hearing 2004-14368
May 25, 2004

This proceeding arose upon a request for hearing made by Ronald & Peggy Sirois (the “Insureds”) to contest the pending nonrenewal of homeowners insurance coverage provided by Concord General Mutual Insurance Company (the “Company.”) On January 27, 2004, the Company mailed a notice of nonrenewal effective April 3, 2004, on policy number H372059, citing “unacceptable increase fire hazard” as the grounds for nonrenewal. Pursuant to 24-A M.R.S.A. § 3054, the Insureds’ hearing request was timely.

A hearing in this matter was held pursuant to 24-A M.R.S.A. § 3054 on March 9, 2004, with Connie Mayette sitting as designated hearing officer. See 24-A M.R.S.A. § 210. The purpose of the hearing was limited to establishing the existence of the proof or evidence given by the Company to support its reason for policy nonrenewal. Staff representing the Company submitted a sworn statement in lieu of appearance at the hearing. The Insureds represented themselves at the hearing.

FINDINGS OF FACT
The following facts have been proven by a preponderance of evidence submitted:

  1. The Company has insured the subject property since April 4, 2000.
  2. Mr. Sirois uses a woodstove in the garage attached to his house. The current stove, which replaced a prior model, was installed in 2001.
  3. A heating zone for the garage is intended to be installed shortly so that the garage can be heated from the HWBB furnace in the house. The Insureds intend to keep the woodstove in the garage as a back-up heating source during frequent power outages.

ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION OF LAW

Title 24-A M.R.S.A. § 3051 states that the reason for nonrenewal must be a good faith reason rationally related to the insurability of the property, and 24-A M.R.S.A. § 3054 requires the Company to establish the proof or evidence of its reason for nonrenewal.

Judith Boehm, Personal Lines Underwriter for the Company, stated in her affidavit that the Company discovered a woodstove installed in the Insureds’ garage when it received a completed woodstove questionnaire on March 4, 2002. She testified that the use of woodstoves in garages, service or utility buildings is prohibited by NFPA-211-19951 codes (the “Code”), and that she had verified with the State Fire Marshal that this is a statewide code. She stated that woodstoves in garages are unsafe and represent an increase in fire hazard. She noted that the Company had requested in April 2003 that the stove be removed. She further testified that the Company confirmed in January 2004 that the Insureds had not complied with this request, and that therefore the nonrenewal notice was issued.

Ronald Sirois confirmed that a woodstove is installed in his garage, and that it is used extensively as the garage must remain heated. He testified that the garage is attached to the house and the water pipes in the garage and large jugs of liquid cleaners stored under his workbench would freeze without the woodstove. He maintained that the woodstove is also necessary for back-up heat when the power is out. Finally, he said that the garage must be kept heated to keep the slab from cracking, as it is a floating slab with no frost wall.

He stated that the stove was there before the Company first insured him, and he does not understand why it is suddenly an issue now. He emphasized that he has immediately attended to any issue of concern in the past, and he provided evidence that he had installed a handrail when the agency told him one was needed. He stated he has over 30 years experience in heating with wood, and that he cleans the chimney on a monthly basis and checks the smoke alarms and fire extinguisher weekly.

Mr. Sirois testified that he was told by two different woodstove installers that the only problem with a woodstove in a garage is gasoline fumes from the vehicles. He stated he was advised that fumes only rise 18 inches off the floor and that if the woodstove was elevated to at least 18 inches, the stove would be above the fumes. He submitted photos showing the woodstove lifted up onto cement blocks to 19 1/2 inches off the floor. He indicated that he works on all of his family’s vehicles (eight, including his adult children’s vehicles) in this garage on a regular basis, washing them and changing the oil.

Mr. Sirois stated that he has contracted to have a third heating zone installed to his existing furnace to provide heat to the garage, and that installation will be completed on March 16 and 17. He did indicate, however, that the furnace does not run when the power is out so he must keep the woodstove in the garage for backup heat in the event of a power outage. He said that, as a last resort, he would agree to remove the pipe from the stove and cap the chimney so it could not be used, but also indicated it is very easy to pop the cap out and reinstall the pipe to use the stove when it is needed. He also added that he does have a generator, but it is not powerful enough to sustain the furnace for heating purposes.

The Superintendent of Insurance has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 24-A M.R.S.A. § 3054. The Company bears the burden of proof for establishing that the statutory grounds for policy nonrenewal exist. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the Superintendent hereby concludes that the Company has established adequate grounds for policy nonrenewal.

The Code clearly prohibits the installation of a woodstove in a residential garage, or in any location where gasoline or any other flammable vapors or gases are likely to be present. Nothing in the Code permits installation in a garage if the stove is elevated at least 18 inches off the floor. Sparks and embers can easily spit out from the stove when wood is being loaded or tended, and present a fire hazard in an area where gasoline, fumes and engine oil are present. Although Mr. Sirois maintained that he intends to install a zone to his heating system to heat the garage from the furnace, he testified that he will continue to use the woodstove as a backup heat source during power outages. The Company has demonstrated that using a woodstove in a garage is an unsafe practice and the evidence indicates that the Insureds intend to continue using their woodstove in the garage during power outages. The Company has demonstrated that this use represents an increased fire hazard, and accordingly, it has established that it is a good faith reason rationally related to the insurability of the property.

INDEX OF RECORD:
Exhibit 1 – Affidavit of Judith Boehm
Exhibit 2 – Nonrenewal notice and Certified Mail Receipt
Exhibit 3 – Copy of Policy
Exhibit 4 – Woodstove Questionnaire 03/2002
Exhibit 5 – Fire Dept. letter & clearance information
Exhibit 6 – Photos of Garage A-E
Exhibit 7 – Literature on garage woodstove
Exhibit 8 – Stove Photos A-F
Exhibit 9 – Letter from Agent 2/2003
Exhibit 10 – Inspection letter 10/2003
Exhibit 11 – Agent letter on handrails 12/2003
Exhibit 12 – Contract for 3rd furnace heating zone

ORDER AND NOTICE OF APPEAL RIGHTS
The intended termination is hereby approved. Concord General Mutual Insurance Company is directed to continue coverage under policy #H372059pursuant to 24-A M.R.S.A. § 3054 until 12:01 a.m. on June 9, 2004 to provide an opportunity for the policyholder to obtain other coverage.

This Decision and Order is a final agency action within the meaning of the Maine Administrative Procedure Act. It is appealable to the Superior Court in the manner provided in 24-A M.R.S.A. § 236 and M.R. Civ. P. 80C. Any party to the hearing may initiate an appeal within 30 days after receipt of this notice. Any nonparty whose interests are substantially and directly affected may initiate an appeal within 40 days of the effective date of this Decision and Order.

1 National Fire Protection Association #211 addresses Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel Appliances. According to 25 M.R.S.A. § 2465, Maine’s Commissioner of Public Safety adopted by reference the Rules and Regulations of NFPA #211 in 1981. The Code states that solid fuel-burning appliances shall not be installed in any residential garage or in any location were gasoline or any other flammable vapors or gases are likely to be present. Maine is currently using the 2000 edition of these rules, but the noted prohibitions are unchanged.

 

Dated May 25, 2004                                                    Alessandro A. Iuppa
                                                                                    Superintendent of Insurance

                                                                                    ____________________________________
                                                                                    by Connie Mayette, AU
                                                                                    Hearings Examiner
                                                                                    Designated Hearing Officer

Junior Member
 

Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 7
Default Tenant Burned Down the Garage

My question involves landlord-tenant law in the State of: Minnesota

While driving to church last Sunday we happened to notice that the garage at one of our rental properties had burned to the ground and was still smoking. On our way back from church the tenant was in the yard so we stopped to chat. He indicated that he had been out in the garage the night before using the wood stove???? but had gone into the house to get a pail from the kitchen and put the fire out before going to bed. Evidently not, since the garage is gone. They have no insurance and 3 of the their cars burned up along with many items in the garage including a pool table that they claim is worth over 10k.

The wood stove comment was a surprise since there wasn’t one in the garage when we rented the house to them and they did not have our permission to install or use one. The police report states the fire was a result of faulty venting of a wood stove.

This gets worse, my insurance agent dropped the ball and didn’t bind coverage on the property, I have notes and they admit that they received all of the appropriate info back from me but the underwriter at this point is not receptive to binding the policy with the fire loss.

Do I have any recourse against the tenant? Does the tenant have recourse against me for the loss of their cars and stuff that was in the garage? What about my insurance agent, do they have their own insurance for this kind of mistake?

Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 11-20-2008, 08:50 PM
Senior Member
 

Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: California
Posts: 24,351
Default Re: Tenant Burned Down the Garage

Quote:
Quoting Skyemay


View Post
Do I have any recourse against the tenant

If you can establish that they negligently installed a wood stove, and negligently left it burning causing the garage to catch on fire, yes. (Do they have jobs or money to pay a judgment?)

Quote:
Quoting Skyemay


Does the tenant have recourse against me for the loss of their cars and stuff that was in the garage?

If they negligently installed a wood stove, and negligently left it burning causing the garage to catch on fire, and the court accepts that you didn’t approve installation and didn’t even know the stove existed, no. This would be "all their fault".

Quote:
Quoting Skyemay


What about my insurance agent, do they have their own insurance for this kind of mistake?

You would have to ask your insurance agent what coverage he has. I hope they step up and cover your loss; if not, consult a lawyer.

Resolved Question

Show me another »

Why can’t a wood burning stove in a garage be vented liked a direct-vent fireplace?

I realize direct-vent fireplaces are gas operated but I thought if I constructed an air intake adjacent to the hot chimney and ran it to the stove it would act in a similar manner; however, I was told this can’t be done but wasn’t given an explanation. Could someone clear this up for me?
  • 3 months ago

Additional Details

Just to clarify, I would have the burner exhausted out the side of the garage AND the air intake would be adjacent to it, like a direct-vent fireplace.

3 months ago

kravdraa by kravdraa

Member since:

April 16, 2007

Total points:

2727 (Level 4)

Best Answer – Chosen by Asker

Well the wood burning stove in a garage theoretically is in a location with other flammable materials and or fuel in your car. Wod stove, sparks, fumes = BOOM.
THat is why code requires electric outlets to be 4 feet off the ground in a garage.
If you will be doing any wood work you have a second problem. Build up of sawdust in the air. A guy was killed with the same set up. Wood dust in the air, opened the wood stove door to reload, dust detonated (yup DETONATED) killing him.
So please ponder the location and other factors before using a wood stove in the garage.

Source(s):

I simply know a lot of stuff

Quote

I would recommend checking with your homeowner’s insurance (or rental insurance) prior to installing a wood burning stove. I purchased a house 2 years ago with a wood burning stove already installed. I notified the insurance company that the house had a wood burning stove prior to purchasing the house (when I got the quote). They approved the contract only to revoke it 2 months later due to the fact I had a wood burning stove that I had already disclosed to them…

After this I had to shop around for a new insurance company and found out that the stove put my home into another class of insurability and the only companies that would insure my house would’ve increased my monthly insurance payment by $250/month!!!! Because I have no claims on my homeowners insurance and the original company gave me such a good rate, I chose to uninstall the unit completely – which was close to $200 to get professionally done too (I had to show the receipt and they had to photograph the un-install to get the contract underwritten).

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