For those who suffered property loss during Sandy, here are a few tips on recovery, insurance, and disaster assistance. Please remember – property can be fixed and replaced – what is important is that you and your family have come safely through this disaster.
Take immediate steps to prevent further damage. You do not have to wait for insurance adjusters to arrive, you are permitted to take steps to protect property, such as drying out, removing wet items including carpeting, etc. BUT BE SURE TO DOCUMENT! Best not to dispose of items yet – store outdoors until insurance is settled.
Photograph everything! Create photographic documentation of your loss. Everything that is damaged. Especially if you will be moving or removing items.
Know Your Policy! If damage is from water, did you have flood insurance? If not, your homeowners insurance will not cover flood damage. However, all may not be lost. If you are in the designated federal disaster area, you should contact FEMA to apply for federal disaster assistance. Even if you had flood insurance, FEMA may provide additional funds for losses not covered by ordinary insurance. Go to www.fema.gov or call FEMA at 800-621-3362 for more information on applying for federal disaster assistance. Here is a list of services that may be available from FEMA: http://www.fema.gov/disaster-assistance-available-fema
Hire contractors to secure property ASAP. Even before adjusters arrive, it you have photographic evidence of loss, the insurance company will not penalize you for taking steps to mitigate damage and even begin repairs. This is in the insurance company’s best interest as well as your own, as continued water or mold damage only increases the cost of the claim. Keep detailed photographic evidence and records of all expenses incurred.
Document storm related expenses. Clean up related expenses, even temporary housing expenses may be covered under your policy, or may be fully or partially reimbursed by FEMA. Keep records of all expenses incurred.
What to expect from insurance. Many insurers have also been affected by the storm. At the same time, claim volumes are, quite naturally, sky high. So be patient even as you begin to take remedial action on your own. Insurers are under pressure to perform during a crisis like this, so rest assured they will be doing all they can to process claims. However, you also need to advocate on your own behalf. Again, know your policy, know your rights. Generally speaking, if the loss is covered under your contract the insurance company is obligated to return your property to the condition it was in prior to the disaster. Anything less is not acceptable.
Do hurricane deductibles apply? Many policies have raised deductibles in recent years for hurricane specific damage. But here’s the rub: Sandy may not technically have been a hurricane at time of landfall. The state insurance commissioners are pushing insurers to waive higher deductibles – and they do have substantial clout. Ask your insurer, and check with the state insurance commissioner if you don’t think you are getting a fair deal.