A natural disaster is one of the most common causes of insurance losses. When a natural disaster hits and causes damage to your home, car or other type of property, knowing what to do and the steps to take to file a claim can be important. Without taking the proper steps, you could make a mistake that negatively impacts your claims outcome. Taking the right steps can help to avoid errors when filing a natural disaster claim.

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What insurance covers in a natural disaster

When it comes to insurance for natural disasters, the damages to homes are covered by different kinds of policies. The protections your home and possessions have depends on which policy type is in place when the disaster strikes.

What HO-2 and HO-3 homeowners insurance commonly covers

When you own a standalone, or single-family, home, the HO-2 and HO-3 are the most common types of home insurance policies homeowners choose. These types of policies generally cover damage to dwelling and personal property from:

  • Fire or lightning
  • Windstorm or hail
  • Explosion
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Falling object
  • Weight of ice, snow or sleet
  • Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from items in home
  • Sudden and accidental tearing apart or burning of certain home items
  • Freezing of a certain home systems such as plumbing
  • Sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current

There may be limitations on the type and cause of the disaster. Check with your provider for any exceptions.

What renters and condo insurance commonly covers

For a natural disaster, renters insurance  and co-op or condo insurance commonly cover the same perils as listed above. With renters insurance, this coverage only extends to personal property.

With condo insurance, policyholders have “walls-in” coverage, which covers permanent fixtures within the home and any improvements you make to the condo. HO-4 and HO-6 (renters and condo) policies do not provide regular coverage for the outer structure of the dwelling.

What isn’t covered by homeowners and renters policies

  • Flood damage: Homeowners, condo and renters insurance commonly excludes flood damage. If you want coverage for flood damage, you will need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy, which is offered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Most insurance companies can provide an NFIP policy and some may have private flood insurance options as well.
  • Earthquake damage: Standard homeowners and renters insurance commonly excludes damage from earthquakes. Coverage may be available by purchasing add-on coverage from the provider. Separate earthquake insurance policies are also available from many providers.
  • Lack of maintenance: If your home or apartment is damaged due to negligence, the insurance company will not cover any of the damages that occur from a lack of maintenance.
  • Sewer backup: Damage caused by sewer backup is commonly excluded from homeowners insurance and renters insurance. Some providers do offer this coverage in their policies as an endorsement for an additional fee.

How to file a successful claim

After a natural disaster damages your property, you’ll need to act fast. Because insurance claims are time-sensitive, review your policy (or policies) beforehand so you’ll already have working knowledge of the damages covered by each policy. After the damage occurs, file claims as soon as is safely possible. Here are the steps to take to file a home insurance claim successfully.

Step 1: Emergency repairs

Take pictures of the damage before touching anything unless doing so will put you in danger. If so, make emergency repairs first. Only make bare-essential repairs that are needed to keep you and your family safe. Save the receipts for all repairs and materials purchased to make the repairs, if you do it yourself.

Step 2: Take pictures

Take as many pictures as you need to provide a comprehensive account of all the damages to your home from the natural disaster. Aside from the damage, it’s also a good idea to take pictures of the undamaged areas of the house for comparison.

If you need to file a claim with your flood insurance provider, it can be helpful to use rulers and yardsticks in the pictures to provide exact measurements of the levels of flooding in your home. But as a general rule, don’t touch anything until you have fully documented the damage with photographs.

Step 3: Contact the provider

Once you have all the evidence, file the claim. Hopefully, you’ll be able to collect photographs and contact your provider soon after the damage occurs. The longer you wait, the harder it  can  be to file a successful claim.

When speaking with the claims adjuster, keep the conversation minimal and stick to the facts. Make sure you have a full understanding of the claims process and what information the provider will need from you. A home inspection will be part of the process.

Step 4: Verify contractors

If your claim is successful, the provider will give you the green light on making repairs. Your provider might recommend contractors, but you don’t have to hire them. The choice is yours, although using a preferred vendor of the insurance company may speed up the repair process and could come with workmanship guarantees.

Whoever you hire, make sure the business is reputable. Using other contractors besides the ones recommended by the provider may slow down the process. If the natural disaster damage is widespread in your area, it may take time before the contractor can do an estimate and complete repairs.

Mistakes to avoid when filing a claim

Under the best circumstances, filing an insurance claim is a difficult process with many pitfalls. Natural disasters can cause drastic damage to a home, and going through the claims process afterwards is enough to give headaches to even the most experienced homeowners. With the right information, you should be able to make it through with a successful claim. Here’s what to avoid when filing a claim.

Waiting too long to file the claim

There’s usually a time limit on claims filing, so take care of it as soon as possible. The sooner you file a claim, the faster the process can start, which can also minimize further damage that could occur, like mold that requires remediation. Filing your claim as soon as possible after the disaster also ensures the damages to your home will be fresh and more easy to recognize for the home inspection.

Disregarding damaged property

After a natural disaster damages your home, document everything. Treat your home like the scene of a crime, and don’t touch anything if you can help it. If you do need to make emergency repairs for safety, hopefully you can take pictures of the area that needs repairs before making any changes.

Failing to avoid further damage

If making temporary repairs is the only way to keep your home from sustaining more damage after the natural disaster, do so as quickly as possible. Home insurance policies commonly include language that requires you to make these repairs. If you fail to do so, it could jeopardize your claim.

Losing receipts

Every dollar you spend that’s related to the damages your home sustained from the natural disaster should be carefully recorded. You’ll need to keep the receipts in order to be reimbursed after the claim goes through. If your policy includes “loss-of-use” coverage and the disaster prevents you from living or cooking at home, make sure to keep food and lodging receipts, as well.

Not having a home inventory

If the damage to your personal property is extensive, it may be difficult to remember what was there. If you have a working home inventory of all your valuables, it will be easy to compare before and after. This inventory helps to ensure you claim everything lost to the disaster. It also provides further evidence to the adjuster.

Failing to recognize fraud

Unfortunately, insurance fraud is common. When filing a claim after a natural disaster, it’s vitally important to be completely honest about the resulting damage to your home. If your home was damaged by something that’s not covered under your policy, you must say so—attributing that damage to a covered peril is insurance fraud. Fraud can also be committed by contractors, which can jeopardize your claim. That’s why it’s important to find reputable contractors. Fraudulent claims can result in criminal offenses.

Frequently asked questions

    • The best home insurance depends on the needs of the homeowner. Homes vary widely in price and size, and the coverage needed by the homeowner may depend on location. So it’s smart to gather quotes from a few different insurers to compare coverage types and pricing, so you can find the best home insurance company that meets your coverage needs.
    • Flood damage is commonly excluded from home insurance, so you need a separate flood insurance policy. Most insurance companies offer flood insurance through the  National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). If you don’t qualify for the NFIP or have coverage needs that exceed the limits, you may need a private flood insurance policy, which some companies offer.
    • Standard home insurance policies generally cover damage from wildfires, though it may be more difficult in areas that are at high risk for this natural disaster. The type of policy you have, the insurance company you choose and where you live will determine if your home insurance covers wildfires. Taking steps to protect your home from wildfires can limit or prevent damage from occurring.
    • Insurance typically does cover natural disasters, but it depends on the disaster and what kind of insurance you have. Pay close attention to the covered perils listed in your insurance policy to understand how your home and personal belongings are protected if a natural disaster strikes. Knowing how to read your homeowners insurance policy can make it easier to determine what’s covered and what’s excluded. You can also speak with your insurance agent or company to learn about what is and is not covered under your specific policy type.