With our national conscious on Hurricane Harvey and its ensuing damage, many may be unsure how to file an insurance claim after a flood. The first step is to determine if your homeowners insurance or renters insurance covers flood damage. While many homeowners insurance policies do cover some types of water damage, unfortunately, they often do not cover flood damage. Homeowners who live in areas prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding often must purchase additional policies to cover damages, typically through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurance company.

First and foremost, your concern should be for you and your family’s safety. Floods and natural disasters can be life threatening. When you are safe and able to file a claim, the Insurance Information Institute (iii) recommends notifying your insurance agent as soon as possible to schedule an appointment with an adjuster. When there is a large scale natural disaster, an adjuster may not be able to get to your home promptly. Don Carson, executive vice president of insurance brokerage Burns & Wilcox said, “Individuals are going to need to take charge here: Do temporary repairs to their property, make sure the electricity is off, board up holes in the roof, and take as many pictures as they possibly can, to build up their inventory list.”

When you can safely meet with an adjuster, according to the iii, you can expect the adjuster to do the following:

  • Have official identification.

  • Take measurements and photos, and note direct flood damage.

  • Provide you with a local contact if any additional visits are needed.

  • Provide you with a flood certification number.

  • Provide you a suggested Proof of Loss, based on the assessment.

The adjuster will not:

  • Approve or disapprove claims.

  • Tell you whether your claim will be approved.

 

Additionally, the iii recommends being prepared with documents related to damaged property, such as contractors estimates, receipts, and photos. The New York Times recommends photographing the damage, and moving damaged items outdoors to prevent mold in the house. Do not have the contents hauled away until the insurance adjuster can assess them. CNN recommends making a thorough inventory list of your property that has been impacted. If possible, provide purchase receipts or estimate how much the belongings cost when you bought them.

Additionally, if your home was uninhabitable during the storm and you had to make other arrangements, including hotel, transportation, and meals, keep those receipts as well. While flood insurance many not cover these expenses, if applicable, the wind damage portion of your homeowners policy may cover them. In any case, it’s best to hold on to all receipts and expenses related to the loss.

Richard Hanna of the Texas Insurance Council warns policyholders to be wary of fraud, stating that it can be a boon to fraudulent contractors with “storm chasers” going from home to home offering to do repairs. Work closely with your insurer, always get a written estimate, and don’t rush into getting repair contracts. Don’t pay cash or write a check up front, instead, pay in installments and wait until the work is completed to your satisfaction before making the final payment.

After meeting with your adjuster, you’ll want to review, sign, and send the proof of loss to your insurance company within 60 days after the loss. If you discover additional damage after filing your claim, or repairs cost more than estimated, you can file for additional payment by contacting your adjuster or insurance agent. Checks for the building property are made out to the mortgage holder’s name.

According to the New York Times:

  • If you disagree with the amount, you can seek an appraisal to document the value of the loss.

  • If your claim is denied outright, you can appeal to FEMA in writing within 60 days of receiving the denial-of-claim letter. You will not be able to seek an appraisal if you decide to appeal; likewise, if you seek an appraisal, you will not be able to file an appeal.

  • You can sue FEMA, even if you have filed an appeal. The lawsuit must be filed within a year of the denial in the federal court for the district where the damaged property is.

 

Residents and business owners in designated areas who have sustained losses can begin applying for FEMA assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.

If you do not have access to the internet you may register by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). Users of 711 relay or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362 directly. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.