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Earthquake Insurance Options in California

Amy Danise

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:

  • 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.

California laws about earthquake insurance

Under California law, when you buy homeowners insurance, the insurer must offer you earthquake insurance. (You don’t have to take it.) The law also applies to people buying insurance for condos, renters, mobile homes or manufactured homes.

No law or mortgage lender requires someone to purchase earthquake insurance in California.

A fire that is caused by or follows an earthquake must be covered by renters or homeowners insurance, even if you don’t have an earthquake insurance policy.

How do you get California earthquake 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 and rates 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 earthquake 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.

Important things to know about a CEA earthquake insurance policy

CEA earthquake insurance covers only earthquakes caused by natural catastrophic events. That means quakes caused by human activity won’t be covered, such as quakes from 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 CEA-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.

You can’t get new coverage for a seismic event happening now. If you take out a policy during a quake, it doesn’t take effect until the “seismic event” is over. If you already have a CEA policy and have damage, and then further shaking occurs after 15 days, the new shaking could count as a second, separate seismic event, meaning it’s a second insurance claim and you’d pay another deductible.

You can change your mind: 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.

CEA insurance choices

There are two CEA policy options: Homeowners Choice and Standard. Homeowners Choice allows you to pick and choose some coverages. The Standard option bundles coverage types 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
Breakables Optional Optional
Exterior masonry veneer Optional Optional

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 there were 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.

Deductible difference between the two CEA policies for homeowners

  • CEA Homeowners Choice 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.
  • CEA Standard earthquake policy: 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 meet the threshold for making a claim.

Is it covered by a CEA insurance policy?

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
Debris removal Yes
Lost rent if you have a tenant Yes

The CEA vs. other options

Only about 13% 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 (66% of them). There’s no commercial insurance available for businesses from the CEA, but it’s available through non-CEA commercial earthquake policies.

How much is earthquake insurance in California?

The average premium for CEA policies is $674. The average non-CEA earthquake insurance premium is $816, according to 2017 data from the California department of insurance. That doesn’t necessarily mean CEA policies are cheaper. People could be buying more coverage through non-CEA policies, thus increasing the average premium.

The CEA will be reducing its earthquake insurance rates by 1.7% on July 1, 2019.

Who sells CEA earthquake insurance in California?

Current sellers of CEA insurance policies are:

  1. ACA Insurance (AAA)
  2. Allstate
  3. Amica
  4. Armed Forces Insurance Exchange
  5. ASI
  6. Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA)
  7. California FAIR Plan (for Californians who are unable to buy insurance from private insurers due to risk)
  8. Commerce West
  9. CSAA (AAA in Northern California)
  10. Encompass
  11. Farmers Insurance Group
  12. Foremost
  13. Homesite
  14. Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance Policy
  15. Liberty Mutual Group Business Insurance Agriculture/Farm
  16. Liberty Mutual Insurance
  17. MAPFRE
  18. Mercury
  19. Nationwide Insurance
  20. Nationwide Private Client
  21. Progressive
  22. Safeco
  23. State Farm Insurance
  24. USAA

Who sells non-CEA earthquake insurance in California?

About 30 insurers offer non-CEA earthquake policies for homeowners in California. Some also offer it for renters and condo owners. 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 available from non-CEA insurers can be different than what’s listed above for CEA policies.

Who sells stand-alone California earthquake policies?

Aegis, GeoVera, Pacific Specialty and Palomar Specialty offer “stand-alone” quake policies in California, meaning you can buy earthquake insurance from them and your homeowners, condo or renters insurance from someone else.

California Earthquake Authority contact information

801 K Street, Suite 1000
Sacramento, CA 95814
Online contact form

Phone: (916) 325-3800
Toll Free: (877) 797-4300
Information desk: (888) 423-2322
Fax: (916) 244-0555
Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.