Not many Californians buy earthquake insurance. This could be due to a mix of cost, misconceptions about insurance or just plain denial.
If you live in California, here are two important things to know about earthquake insurance:
- Homeowners insurance generally does not cover earthquake damage.
- You shouldn't count on free government help with paying for quake damage. Federal assistance generally comes in the form of loans that have to be paid back.
Under California law, when you buy home insurance, the insurer must offer you earthquake insurance. (You don't have to take it.) The law also applies to people buying condo, renters and mobile home and manufactured home insurance.
Earthquake insurance is available from companies offering personal earthquake policies and also from companies participating in the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). The CEA is a not-for-profit entity that was created in order to make earthquake insurance more readily available after the 1994 quake in Northridge, California.
The CEA defines the terms of its earthquake policies, and pays the claims. "Participating" insurers offer CEA policies to customers and service them. Companies such as Allstate, State Farm and USAA offer CEA policies. Insurers that sell CEA policies are not allowed to also offer their own competing earthquake policies.
Only California has this unique system for providing earthquake insurance.
Here are important things to know about a CEA earthquake insurance policy:
It covers only earthquakes caused by natural catastrophic events. That means quakes caused by human activity won't be covered, such as blasting and fracking. But also "natural events" related to earthquakes such as tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are not covered.
You must have separate home or fire insurance on the property from the same participating insurer. You can't buy only earthquake insurance on a property. For example, to buy a CEA policy from State Farm you'd have to also have a State Farm home, condo, mobile home or renters insurance policy. If you don't have a "companion" policy at the time of a quake, the CEA could void the earthquake insurance.
If there's widespread quake disaster, your CEA claim might not be paid. If the CEA runs out of funds, it might not pay the full amount of claims or could pay policyholders in installments.
There's a 15-day window after a seismic event. If you take out a policy during a quake, it doesn't take effect until the 15-day window is over. If you already have a policy and have damage, and if further shaking occurs after 15 days, the new shaking could count as a second, separate seismic event, meaning it's a second claim and you'd pay another deductible.
There are two CEA policy options: Homeowners Choice and Standard. Homeowners choice allows you to pick and choose some coverages. Standard bundles more together.
|Coverage||CEA Homeowners Choice||CEA Standard|
|Dwelling||Included. Coverage amount will match your home insurance policy.
Deductible: 5% to 25%
|Included. Coverage amount will match your home insurance policy.
Deductible: 5% to 25%
|Costs to make building code upgrades during repairs||$10,000 included. $20,000 and $30,000 optional.||$10,000 included, $20,000 and $30,000 optional.|
|Emergency repairs||Included, up to 5% of the dwelling limit.
The first $1,500 in repair costs has no deductible.
|Included, up to 5% of the dwelling limit.
The first $1,500 in repair costs has no deductible.
|Belongings||Optional, up to $200,000||Included, up to $200,000|
|Loss of use (extra expenses if you can't live at home due to quake damage)||Optional, up to $100,000||Included, up to $100,000|
|Exterior masonry veneer||Optional||Optional|
Deductible difference between the two CEA policies for homeowners
|CEA Homeowners Choice earthquake policy||CEA Standard earthquake policy|
|The deductibles for structure and contents are separate. If your damage only meets the deductible level for one coverage, you can make the claim for just that coverage.||You must have enough house damage to meet the dwelling deductible before you can make any claim. For example, if you have extensive damage to your belongings but not much structural damage, you might not be able to make a claim.|
The CEA added new coverage types and limit options in 2016, so if you previously rejected the idea of a CEA policy, it's a good time to take another look:
- Personal property coverage up to $200,000 (previously $100,000 limit)
- Loss of use coverage up to $100,000 (previously $5,000 limit)
- Five deductible choices from 5% to 25% (previously two choices)
There are also now better discounts (up to 20%) for taking steps to mitigate earthquake damage. You can access the policies in their entirety on the CEA website.
|Item||Is it covered?|
|Chimney||Yes, up to $10,000|
|Driveway, sidewalks, decks and patios||Yes, but only if needed to get in and out of the house. A decorative walkway in the garden wouldn't be covered.|
|Detached garages and outbuildings||No|
|Landscaping, trees, shrubs and plants||No|
|Outdoor sprinkler systems||No|
|Swimming pools, spas and hot tubs||No|
|Awnings and satellite dishes||No|
|Cash||Yes, up to $250|
|Computer equipment||Yes, up to $3,000|
|Jewelry, watches, furs and precious and semi-precious stones||Yes, up to $3,000 total, and no more than $1,000 for one item.|
|Wine and beer||Yes, up to $3,000 total for beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic|
|Artwork such as paintings, sculptures and photographs||No|
|Breakable items such as glassware, china and crystal||No, but you can buy extra coverage for it|
|Animals, birds and fish||No|
|Fungi damage to the dwelling or wall-to-wall carpet due to the quake||Yes, up to $5,000|
|Land stabilization||Up to $10,000 if it's needed to support the dwelling|
|Lost rent if you have a tenant||Yes|
If you don't buy a CEA policy when you're offered it by a participating insurer, you can change your mind later and buy one.
The CEA vs. other earthquake insurance optionsOnly about 11% of Californians with residential properties have quake insurance -- either through the CEA or other personal earthquake policies. Most quake policies in California are sold through the CEA (76% of them). There's no commercial insurance available from the CEA, but it's available through non-CEA commercial earthquake policies.
The average premium for CEA policies is $719. The average non-CEA premium is $1,297, according to a 2017 report from Resources for the Future and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. That doesn't necessarily mean CEA policies are cheaper. People could be buying more coverage through non-CEA policies, thus increasing the average premium.
Who sells earthquake insurance in California?
The current sellers of CEA policies are:
- ACA Insurance (AAA)
- Allied Insurance
- Armed Forces Insurance Exchange
- Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA)
- California FAIR Plan (for Californians who are unable to buy insurance from private insurers due to risk)
- Commerce West
- CSAA (AAA in Northern California)
- Farmers Insurance Group
- Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance Policy
- Liberty Mutual Group Business Insurance Agriculture/Farm
- Liberty Mutual Insurance
- Nationwide Insurance
- Nationwide Private Client
- State Farm Insurance
About 30 insurers offer non-CEA policies in California, including quake coverage for homeowners, condo owners and renters. This list from the California Department of Insurance shows earthquake insurance providers and the methods they use to determine premiums. The coverage rules and limits they offer can be different than what's listed above for CEA policies.
Aegis, GeoVera and Pacific Specialty offer "stand-alone" quake policies in California, meaning you can buy your home, condo or renters insurance from someone else.