Are landslides covered by homeowners insurance?

04 Apr

The recent and tragic mudslide in Washington has served as a stark reminder that Mother Nature is powerful force. Unfortunately, it is also a reminder that not all natural disasters are covered by your homeowners policy. While the typical homeowners policy provides protection against a large number of issues both big and small, it doesn’t provide coverage for every situation and mudslides are rarely covered.

Depending on the size of the slide, damages can range from a few hundred dollars to the catastrophic destruction of your entire home. Unfortunately, many homeowners forgo this coverage. According to the Northwest Insurance Council, only 4,700 homes in Washington have mudslide protection, this is out of 1.5 million single-family homes.

Experts recommend that anyone that living in a slide zone should have a “difference in conditions policy,” which provides coverage for mudslides and other disasters that are typically excluded in a standard homeowners policy. These policies can also include coverage for landslides, mudflow and even earthquakes. Coverages vary depending on the policy so make sure any policy you are considering covers all potential natural disasters that are possible in your area.

Flood insurance is usually a separate policy and is highly recommended for anyone that lives in a flood zone.   While mudslides are not covered by a flood insurance policy, mudflows are and it is important to understand the difference between the two.

A mudflow is defined as a river of liquid and flowing mud on the surface of land that is normally dry. It is caused by heavy rains combined with the loss of brush and plants. In a mudflow, earth movement does not occur, water picks up dirt and creates a river of mud while a mudslide involves the collapse and movement of earth.

Mudflows can cause extensive damage if they enter your house. The damage is covered by flood insurance but not a typical homeowners policy. Mudslides on the other hand require a “difference in conditions policy.”

The cost of a “difference in conditions policy,” can be high. In order to cover a $300,000 house the annual premium can run upwards of $1,000, which is on top of the cost of your normal homeowners policy.

Its not just homeowners that should consider additional protection, business owners should as well. Mudslides don’t differentiate between homes and storefronts and business policies rarely cover this type of damage.

Sadly, many homeowners and business owner forgo this type of coverage, assuming they are covered by their homeowner policy until it is too late. The reality is that for the majority of us, our homes are the biggest asset we have and completely protecting it should be of the upmost importance.

Many homeowners assume that they can depend on federal disaster aid in the event of a major mudslide or other natural disaster but its important to remember that this type of aid usually comes in the form of a low interest loan so in the end, the homeowner is paying to rebuild the house, not the insurance company.

One last factor to remember is that a “difference in conditions” policy will not pay to cover the cost to stabilize the ground at a home affected by a mudslide. This can be a huge expense for the homeowner so it is a good idea to research the area before you purchase a home. In areas where mudslides are common, hire a geotechnical expert to survey the surrounding areas. They should be able to point out any potential trouble spots.

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