Can You Depend on Your Homeowners Insurance When the House Floods?
This is one of the first questions homeowners ask — or should ask — when they are shopping for insurance for their home:
“Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?”
The answer they are given is “it depends,” and such is the way with understanding what homeowners insurance covers and what it does not. Read this story to learn what insurance protects in general.
You pay for homeowners insurance because you must in order to get a mortgage, and you hope you never need to use it. But a variety of ills — natural or human made — can put you in a position to make a claim of loss or damage to property. You hope the coverage you have paid for all of these years will extend to the situation you are dealing with, but you just never know.
Again, It depends.
Below, you can find what to do when you need to contact your insurance company because you have suffered property loss or your home is damaged. Then you will find out what to do when your claim is denied.
But, first, let’s look at all the ways your home can be damaged by water, and the chances that your homeowners insurance will cover your loss in that event.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Water Damage?
The answer to the question “does homeowners insurance cover water damage?” is multileveled, just as the water damage might be.
In general, water damage caused by accident or mechanical failure of an appliance (washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, etc.) is going to be covered by standard policies. The same is true of a toilet that suffers a sudden leak.
But, if the water damage is a result of poor maintenance, such as broken pipes, mold or rotting pipes or water lines, the claim is likely to be denied.
Coverage for water damage is separated into dwelling damage and personal property damage, What is not covered is replacement of the appliance or machinery that caused the water damage. If your dishwasher develops a sudden leak which causes damage to your home, the structural damage and personal property damage likely will be covered but the cost of replacing the dishwasher will not.
If your home suffers water damage from a backed-up sewer or drain, traditional homeowners insurance doesn’t cover such occurrences. Many companies offer water backup coverage, however.
Flood damage is rarely covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood insurance policies are available thanks to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) , but it is pricey.
If you wonder “does homeowners insurance cover water damage?” check with your agent to determine just what is covered and what is not, and whether you need to consider extended water damage coverage due to current climate conditions or the age of your home.
Making a Claim with Insurance Company
If you have not yet been in a position to make a claim against your homeowner’s policy but know someone who has been denied and you worry about your own policy’s virtues, take time to consider your choices in company and coverage.
What follows is a simplified representation of what is involved in making a homeowners insurance claim for water damage, including the possibility of having your claim denied and what to do in that event.
Step One: Your Home or Property Suffers Water Damage
When your home suffers water damage, you need to determine the actual extent of damage, and if you can, how the damage was caused.
Then contact your insurance company to determine if the damage is covered by your policy. This response to this question is not cut and dried, but it is the starting point for recovering some of your losses.
Step Two: Take an Inventory of What Was Damaged
Take photos or video of water-damaged possessions, structure or property (actually, it would be wise to take a video of your pre-disastered home right now, so you can refer to post-disaster).
Attempt to determine the value of individual items that need to be replaced, and find receipts if you have them (which is actually easier these days since most purchases occur with some form of electronic transaction). If the damage is structural, that will create a need for damage assessment and estimates, but that will occur after the insurance company has agreed to pay up.
Step Three: Meet with the Adjuster
The insurance company will assign you an adjuster, who will eventually come to your home and assess the damage.
Do not assume this person is out to prevent you from covering your damages, but remember that the adjuster is protecting the interests of the insurance company to prevent fraudulent claims.
The adjuster will require a list of lost or damaged items with an estimated value of those items, and will assess structural or property damage that will require estimates to determine repair costs. Putting together a list of the valuable contents of your home is another thing to do before disaster strikes.
Step Four: Get the Verdict
The adjuster will eventually call you with a detailed list of what the company is going to cover, the amount it will give you for your lost or damaged items, and what structural damage the company will pay to be repaired. You may or may not like the dollar figures the adjuster offers.
You may also be surprised to hear that the insurance company can deny your claim, in part or in whole. This is where the insurance company is covering its assets: it will present in written form why it is denying your coverage claim. This letter should provide a complete and specific explanation why your policy does not cover the losses you claim.
If your policy explicitly states certain items or losses are exempt from your coverage, that is the end of the conversation. However, if you believe your policy should cover the damage you suffered, speak to the agent who sold you the policy, if possible, or ask to have an in-person conversation with the adjuster to discuss the situation.
Proving that your policy should cover your losses will not be easy. However, if you have a different interpretation of the language in your policy than what the adjuster suggests, or you have notes from your original conversation with your agent at the time you bought the policy, you can go on to the next step.
What’s God Got to Do With It?
Most standard homeowners insurance policies include an Act of God provision. From an insurance standpoint, an Act of God is damage that occurs as a result of natural causes with no human component, something that could not have been prevented by proper care or maintenance.
Earthquakes or floods are often considered an Act of God. Wildfires may also be considered an Act of God if started by lightning rather than humans (campfire gone bad, tossed cigarette and more).
Homeowner’s insurance policies spell out which Acts of God are covered. For instance, floods are Acts of God, although homeowners in flood plains or near coasts or lakefronts can purchase flood insurance at an additional cost.
Often, standard homeowners insurance policies do cover damage from high winds from natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes. If this is a possible factor in your claim, determine what your policy covers before going onto the next extensive and expensive step.
The increased occurrence of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest has made fire protection a must for homeowners in that area. But different companies provide different levels of coverage and full coverage can be expensive.
How to Fight a Denied Claim
You feel your insurance company is not fulfilling its legal promise to cover the cost of water damage to your home. You have documentation of your losses, a detailed description of the event that caused your damage (malfunctioning appliances or plumbing mishap), and you are in a position where it will behoove you financially to argue your case.
In most cases, there is a limited time frame in which a denied insurance claim can be appealed, and the time frame begins from the moment you are notified of the denied claim.
Your homeowner’s insurance policy includes language stating how to appeal a denied claim. Getting involved in a battle with your insurance company may seem like a lost cause, but often, insurance companies can be convinced to adjust their decision to your benefit.
You might want to consider improving your chances by consulting a property insurance claims professional. These are licensed public insurance adjusters who can assess your claim from an objective viewpoint and will negotiate with our insurance company for you. Deciding on whether to hire a professional outside adjuster will be based on the cost of his or her service versus the amount of money you hope to recover.
The last step to recover funds would be to sue your insurance carrier, which would require hiring an attorney who specializes in property insurance claims. Get references and verifiable information on previous claims regarding water damage that were settled to the homeowner’s benefit.
Here’s hoping this helps and that you never need it.
Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.