California has recently been hit by a shocking amount of punishing winter weather that has triggered flooding as well as mudslides across vast areas of the state. The weather has led to evacuation orders as well as damaged homes. Unfortunately, for many homeowners, the damage may not be covered by their homeowners insurance.
In most cases, California homeowners insurance will cover damage related to rain or wind, but when it comes to damage from flooding, mudslides or debris flows, most homeowner policies exclude this type of damage.
“I think many people are going be in a situation where they might have a landslide or even flooding, and they may be out of luck when it comes to coverage,” said Kami Cady, personal lines manager with Cassidy Insurance Agency in Scotts Valley near Santa Cruz in a recent Orange County Register article.
While most homes in high-risk flood prone areas, as an example, homes located on the coast or next to a river typically carry flood insurance as their mortgage lender would require it, homes in more inland areas are often unprotected by flood insurance. The bad news is that these storms have brought flooding to neighborhoods where flood insurance is not common.
According to data from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), people outside of high-risk areas file more than 25 percent of NFIP claims. In addition, they receive one-third of disaster assistance for flooding. Unfortunately, much of the damage from recent storms happened in areas that are not considered high-risk and many homeowners were not carrying flood coverage.
Most flood insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period before coverage takes effect so once a storm has started, it is too late to add flood insurance coverage. Homeowners that have any concerns about flooding at all should be carrying flood insurance. The NFIP’s preferred risk policies are designed for residential properties located in low- to moderate-risk flood zones.
Recent storms have hit Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties particularly hard which has led to mudflows due to the damage and burn scars caused by massive wildfires that consumed hundreds of thousands of acres of vegetation in recent years. Wildfires burn up vegetation that helps hold the soil together, and when it is gone, and the area receives a large amount of rain, mudflows and flooding will follow.
Luckily, for some homeowners, if their home is damaged by mudslides, they may be covered. California started requiring insurance companies to cover mudslides that are caused by wildfires in 2018 after a mudslide in a wildfire burn scar near Santa Barbara ended up killing 23 people and causing more than $421 million in damage.
“If you had a mudslide or debris flow, it’s going to depend on the cause of that,” said Michael Soller, a spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance in the recent Orange County Register article. “If (a) wildfire was the cause of it … then you may have coverage.”
Homeowners should also be aware that if were ordered to leave their home during the storm or their home is so damaged it is now unlivable, they may be able to claim some of their expenses under the additional living expense portion of their policy. This coverage will help cover the cost of food, lodging and even dry cleaning if you can no longer live in your home.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently declared a state of emergency in many areas of California in response to the weather damage. However, until the federal government declares an emergency there will not be any money for homeowners whose properties were damaged in the storms.
Experts recommend homeowners who have damaged homes should first contact their insurer to fully understand their coverage and what is covered. The California Department of Insurance is offering to help homeowners figure out how to contact their insurers at 800-927-4357 or insurance.ca.gov.