Standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies cover fire damage. Before the tragedy of a fire strikes, it is important to understand what your policy covers to ensure that you receive all of the benefits to which you are entitled.
Standard homeowners policies cover repair or replacement costs for damage caused by fire, smoke and water used to extinguish the blaze up to the limits specified in your policy. Coverage typically includes your home, attached and unattached structures such as garages and sheds, and personal belongings. If your home is uninhabitable, most policies cover the costs of living elsewhere while your home is repaired or rebuilt, such as hotel rooms, restaurant bills and pet boarding.
Actual Cost Value vs. Replacement Cost Coverage
Depending on the terms of your policy, you may have coverage for the replacement cost of your home’s physical structure or it may only reimburse you for the “actual cash value,” which takes depreciation into account. For instance, if you have an actual cash value policy and your roof is 15 years old, you will be reimbursed for what the roof was worth just before the fire, rather than what it will cost you to replace it. Standard homeowners policies usually provide replacement cost coverage for the physical structure and cover personal items at actual cash value. Read your policy to determine the type of coverage you have and what exclusions apply. Typical exclusions include intentional destruction of the property and acts of war, among others.
In certain high-risk areas, wildfires may also be excluded from your coverage, as the increase in intensity and frequency of these catastrophic events in recent years have prompted some insurance companies to exclude wildfires, institute high deductibles or increase premiums substantially. Homeowners in high-risk areas who cannot get wildfire protection in the general insurance marketplace can seek policies through organizations such as the California FAIR Plan Association and Oregon FAIR Plan Association.
This year has been an active one for wildfires. Through August 16, 2021, there have been 40,474 wildfires, burning 4.0 million acres of land in the United States, compared with 35,878 and 2.4 million acres for the same period in 2020, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Insurance companies facing wildfire claims have taken bad-faith steps to limit their payouts, and states like California have passed legislation to protect consumers from some of these tactics. After recent wildfires in the state, for instance, some insurance companies have refused to include the value of land when paying a total loss claim. This reduced the total benefits paid in some cases by hundreds of thousands of dollars for wildfire survivors who choose to relocate rather than rebuild their home at the same location. As a result, California passed legislation that insurance companies can no longer deduct the land value in those instances.
Submitting a Claim
When filing a claim for a fire, your insurance company may look for loopholes to avoid covering the claim and/or dispute the costs to repair or replace damaged structures or the value of damaged or destroyed personal property items. Insurance companies routinely rely on crafty policy language to deny or limit claims, and they slow claims down by requiring home and business owners to submit voluminous, unnecessary documentation to prove the ownership and value of their losses.
If you were affected by a fire, carefully review your insurance documents to determine your rights and obligations under the policy. It is important that you comply with the policy’s notice requirements; many policies have short deadlines following an event for providing notice of claim and proof of loss. You may also be required to take steps to protect the property from further damages and safety threats by, for example, hiring a company to board up and/or fence the premises. Your insurance company will send an adjuster and/or an outside vendor to assess the damage and prepare an estimate of the value of the loss. As early in the process as possible, take your own photos of damaged parts of your home and contents and compile a list of items that are in need of repair or replacement and how much they cost. Document and save receipts for any additional expenses that you incur as a result of these losses.
Many fire victims will hire public adjusters to assist them in this process. A good public adjuster can be instrumental in helping you through this process. These individuals are familiar with what’s covered by your policy and how to submit proper proof of loss to the insurance company.
If you or your business suffered losses from a fire and your insurance company is not keeping the promises it made to you, do not hesitate to call us for assistance. We have the experience and tenacity to make sure insurance companies keep their promises to policyholders like you.
Contact us today for a free consultation.
Evan S. Schwartz
Founder of Schwartz, Conroy & Hack