Are You Just Lost in the Flood?
In the aftermath of the rains that have drenched the East Coast, and particularly the Southeast, over the past couple of weeks, it’s time to take stock of the damage and sort through what’s covered by insurance, what might be, what’s not, and what to do going forward.
The TV weather folks have been assuring us that a number of factors converged to make this The Imperfect Storm. At any rate, some areas affected suffered heavy damage after getting a month or more’s rainfall in just a few days.
Here’s the skinny:
What’s not covered
First and foremost, understand that flood damage from rising waters is not covered by standard home insurance. You need a separate flood policy for that. A good place to start is the National Flood Insurance Program’s FloodSmart.gov website. If you’re counting on federal disaster relief, you should know that it usually comes in the form of a loan – that means it must be repaid.
Also not covered: Damage from sewer system backups, a common occurrence when there’s so much water. You can purchase an endorsement for your policy to cover this going forward.
What might be
If the combination of heavy rains and a leaky roof (that you didn’t know about) causes mold in your home, you could be covered. Obviously, it takes time for mold to develop, so this is a tricky one. Your best bet still is to check your roof now for missing shingles and leaks. To be thorough, you’ll also need to spend a little time in the attic, too, to look and feel for moisture, which is what causes mold.
If you find moisture, hire a professional to make sure it’s dried property before mold develops. Trust us on this – you’ll be glad you were proactive.
The other thing that could be covered is your car, even if it’s completely submerged by rising waters. The reason we say it ‘could’ be protected? Your auto insurance policy would have to include comprehensive coverage. Your lender likely requires this if you’re financing the vehicle.
Some other types of damage caused by the heavy rains likely would be covered. If the rain or wind involved in the storms the past couple of weeks caused roof damage, you’re likely covered. It the water leaking through the roof damaged furniture or electronics, it’s likely covered.
If the rain or wind caused a tree to fall on your house, your homeowners policy likely will protect you (even if it’s your neighbor’s tree). If winds caused a branch or other object to shatter your windows, again you’re likely covered. And again, any of your ‘stuff’ damaged because of the breaches to your roof, walls, or windows also could be covered.
What to do if you are covered
Assess the damage and take photos to document it. Contact your insurance provider as soon as it’s safe and get the claims process started.
Don’t make permanent repairs until you get the OK from your insurer, but you can take temporary measures to keep things from getting worse – for example, you could cover any holes in the roof or broken windows with tarps.
There’s not much you can do at this point about damage from these storms that isn’t covered. But you can prepare yourself and your home for the next time. First, look into a flood policy. You say you don’t live in a high-risk flood area? Be aware that more than 20% of flood insurance claims come from areas that are lower risk.
And don’t put this off. Flood policies typically don’t take effect for 30 days after they’re purchased. And we’ve still got nearly two months of hurricane season left!
Finally, compile a home inventory – a room-by-room listing of your possessions, complete with photos, descriptions, and, when you have them, receipts. Make several copies, including an electronic one, and store them in safe places. This will greatly improve your claims process, regardless of the type of loss you suffer.
We sincerely hope you didn’t suffer damage and can be compensated if you did. But be sure to learn lessons from this unusual but not unprecedented rainy season and get ready for the next time.