The heavy snow and tides caused severe damage in some New Jersey shore towns making memories of Hurricane Sandy resurface. Flooding in Ocean City New Jersey was especially bad, as was flooding in Cape May County and Wildwood. Home owners need to be prepared for the hoards of restoration contractors and public adjusters that will be hounding them for the next few weeks. Storms like this is how most make the majority of their money, but a lot of their promises will come up short and you may be left holding the bag on a lot of unpaid items, or services which weren’t covered under your policy. Read your policy carefully, and do not trust what you hear over the phone from a restoration contractor. Rather, be apart of the process and double check that the Water Restoration contractor is not going above what’s needed just to make their bill higher and the public adjuster happy. Make sure you read your policy through and through, and ask questions so you fully understand the complete process of your claim. And do your own documentation, so you have backup which can help expedite your claim quickly and get your property back to pre-loss conditions. Having a public adjuster or Water Damage Restoration contractor go above what’s needed to inflate a bill puts you in jeopardy of being denied and later dropped by your carrier for fraud.
Recently, I received a call from a couple who had a break in the stack pipe which caused water damage on the first floor and in the basement. They contacted their insurance company, who explained that they didn’t want anything touched until their adjuster saw the damage after the home owner refused to hire one of their recommended franchise restoration companies. Do you see something wrong here?
First and foremost, as I’ve said countless times, you as the home owner can hire any contractor you please. The insurance company’s can only recommend someone, but they can’t force you to use anyone. But more importantly, the insurance company can not force you to wait on doing any emergency or needed mitigation on your home which can cause further damage. Especially in this case where the home owner did not have a Mold clause attached to their policy. Why? Because by leaving the water loss sitting it can cause mold growth, water wicking, further loss to personal contents, etc. The insurance company’s job is to minimize loss and prevent further damage, not making anyone wait days for some adjuster just to come and take a look, when any restoration company will document and photo the entire job from start to finish. And in this case, the water loss itself was a Category 3 Loss, which is basically contaminated water which can lead to major illnesses if left untouched.
So here’s a few final points to remember whenever dealing with the insurance company:
- They’re not your friend, although they’ll act like it. They don’t post hundreds of millions in profit each year by giving you money.
- If you should incur a loss, you have the right to hire any remediation contractor you please as long as they’re licensed, insured and able to follow the guidelines for doing claim work,
- It is within your right to immediately address any loss in your home which is covered by your policy to minimize loss and to quickly bring the home back to pre-loss conditions.
- For dealing with major losses and/or major content loss, it is always an option to hire a reputable Public Adjuster prior to filing a claim, as the paperwork for such a loss is immense.
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This photo shows the same basement in the process of getting HEPA vacuumed. HEPA, which stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, is a type of air filter that the EPA and the United States Department of Energy require as a standard for Lead and Mold Remediation projects. A HEPA air filter must remove 99.97% of all particles greater than 0.3 microns from the air that passes through the canister or system itself. The use of HEPA filters is beneficial for asthma and allergy sufferers, because the filter traps fine particles such as pollen, spores and dust mite feces, which trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. But for a vacuum cleaner to be effective, that cleaner must be a True HEPA system. The main difference between a vacuum cleaner with just a HEPA filter and a True HEPA system, is that all of the air passing through the cabin of the system itself will pass through the HEPA filter, and the unit will not have cabin leaks. This is a vital step in the remediation process which removes loose particulate prior to any spray being applied to the surface and once again, limits cross contamination.
In continuing our blog on Filing a Fire Claim, here’s the last five…
Keep Track of Your Living Expenses
- While displaced from your home, you will get reimbursed for living expenses because of a clause in your policy called, “loss of use.” Note, however, that you are only entitled to the difference between what it costs you while displaced and what it was costing you in your home. For example, if your monthly living expenses are $4,000 per month, but now you are having to add hotel stays, restaurant meals, laundry expenses, and extra gas for your car, totaling an additional $1,000, your insurance company will only reimburse you the extra $1,000 per month.
Continue to Pay Your Insurance Premiums
- Just because you may not be residing in your home doesn’t mean you do not have to pay the insurance bill. Many people stop paying the bill which is a huge mistake. Your policy carries over to wherever you’re currently living. If you’re staying at a friends home and your pet destroys a very expensive piece of furniture, without your policy being current, this is an expense that will be out of pocket. It is very important to let your insurance company know where you are staying, and to always keep your policy current without a lapse.
You Can Always Reopen the Claim
- Insurance companies are quick to close fire insurance claims, especially in mass disaster situations. The longer your claim is open, the greater chance for you to discover something you overlooked previously. This is actually a common occurrence. In such a stressful and confusing time, it is likely that you may forget to list an item of value in your initial insurance claim. Give yourself some time. Protect yourself by waiting a few months before consenting to closing your claim. You do have this power.
Insurance companies will try and slide in a claim closing by adding language to your check. When they send you your check, they may say something like “acceptance of this payment will close your claim.” You do not have to accept this. Cross out the language, sign or initial next to it, and send them a letter thanking them for the payment, but asserting that you do not consider the claim closed.
Consider a Public Adjuster
- A public adjuster is an individual hired to negotiate and handle the claim on your behalf. Some people think that hiring an adjuster will anger the insurance carrier, but this is non-sense. Insurance companies become multi-million dollar companies not by giving you money for your claim, but by trying every means possible to deny or close out your claim with them giving you far less than you are entitled too. A public adjuster, who takes a percentage of the claim, knows the ins and outs of the insurance game, and will fight for every inch. We also have a blog on what to look for when hiring one of them, https://moldsolutions.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/tips-when-hiring-a-public-adjuster-part-1/
Do Not Worry About Being Dropped
- Too familiar with automobile insurance companies raising premiums or completely dropping drivers, many people fear that filing fire insurance claims will cause their homeowners’ insurance company to do the same. This is not the case. As long as you file only legitimate claims after real disasters, you are not a “habitual claimant,” and there is no evidence of fraud on your part, your premium will not increase and you will not lose your coverage.
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This is a picture of a bedroom which was turned into a storage room. Prior to picture being taken the room was filled with an immense amount of belongings and trash. Old articles of clothing, computers, toys and even empty boxes now filled the space to a height of nearly three feet. Once the items were removed, a severe mold issue was discovered. This photo should show everyone that having a lot of items pressed up against walls not only can be a fire hazard, but also will limit your view of just what may be happening behind.
Many people who experience a water loss never know what’s covered until it’s too late. Many are completely unaware that water damage losses are completely different than flood losses. There basically are two insurance policies that deal with a homeowner’s damage due to water — a flood insurance policy and a homeowners insurance policy. Losses not covered by one of these policies may be covered by the other. Knowing the losses to which your home could be exposed will help you decide whether to buy one or both of these insurance coverage.
While insurance policies may differ in the coverage provided from homeowner to homeowner, there often are basic features common to all policies. You should ask your insurance agent or insurance company about the specifics of your insurance policy.
As the name implies, a standard flood insurance policy, which is written by the National Flood Insurance Program, provides coverage up to the policy limit for damage caused by flood. The dictionary defines “flood” as a rising and overflowing of a body of water onto normally dry land. For insurance purposes, the word “rising” in this definition is the key to distinguishing flood damage from water damage. Generally, damage caused by water that has been on the ground at some point before damaging your home is considered to be flood damage. A handful of examples of flood damage include:
- A nearby river overflows its banks and washes into your home.
- A heavy rain seeps into your basement because the soil can’t absorb the water quickly enough
- A heavy rain or flash flood causes the hill behind your house to collapse into a mud slide that oozes into your home.
Flood damage to your home can be insured only with a flood insurance policy — no other insurance will cover flood damage. Flood insurance is available through your insurance agent, insurance company or local Federal Emergency Management Office (FEMA). To determine if your home is located in a flood plain, contact your county planning office. If you are living in a flood plain, flood insurance may be an excellent purchase.
A homeowners insurance policy doesn’t provide coverage for flood damage, but it does provide coverage for many types of water damage to your home. Just the opposite from flood damage, for insurance purposes, water damage is considered to occur when water damages your home before the water comes in contact with the ground. A few examples of water damage include:
- A hailstorm smashes your window, permitting hail and rain free access into your home.
- A heavy rain soaks through the roof, allowing water to drip through your attic or ceiling.
- A broken water pipe spews water into your home.
Even if flood or water damage is not covered by your homeowners insurance policy, losses from theft, fire or explosion resulting from water damage is covered. For example, if a nearby creek overflows and floods your home, and looters steal some of your furnishings after you evacuate, the theft would be covered by your homeowners insurance because it is a direct result of the water damage. However, the flood damage would be covered only if you have flood insurance.
It’s important to note that flood insurance and homeowners insurance do not duplicate coverage for water damage. Instead, they complement each other. It is up to you to talk to your insurance agent or insurance company about flood insurance and homeowners insurance, and then decide which insurance coverage you need to protect your home, its contents and your family.
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Mold Solutions & Inspections, LLC. 1650 Market Street, Suite 3600, Philadelphia Pa. 19103