Typically, insurance policies are renewed each year; insurance companies can make changes to the fine print during those renewals.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Harold Wright is in a moldy, messy fix.
The 59-year-old mechanic and his wife, Peggy, 62, live in a modest brick ranch in northwest Roanoke, not far from Peters Creek Road, an area hit hard by this month’s torrential rains.
Peggy, a retired nurse, was left disabled five years ago after a bout with meningitis. She’s on oxygen and has dementia, and Harold said he has to take her to adult day care every day just so he can go to work.
A little more than half of their basement is finished into a large, carpeted family room, which has paneled walls, a pool table, a bar, a stereo system, a television and a couple of sofas.
The place is a mess right now. Its air is thick and dank with the odor of mold and air freshener the Wrights are using to try and mask the moldy smell.
Harold Wright will never forget the night of July 3 and the morning of July 4, when water poured into that basement. At one point he had about 8 inches. It almost topped the hearth to his fireplace. It was coming up out of two floor drains faster than he could bail it out with a shop vacuum, he said. Some of the water was sewage, he said.
He will also never forget what happened when he tried to make a claim on his homeowner’s insurance. At first, his local agent tried to dissuade him from making one, because his policy might be canceled, he said she warned him.
“Well, what good is insurance then?” Wright said he asked.
Next, she put him on the phone with his insurance company, Auto Owners Insurance. He said an agent there told him making a claim was pointless because his policy didn’t cover storm water damage to basements. His coverage was limited to “living areas,” Wright said the claims agent told him.
“But the basement is a living area,” Wright told the agent.
“It’s still a basement,” Wright said the agent replied.
That was the first inkling Wright got of something scores of other Roanoke-area homeowners have unhappily learned after the recent storms: It’s quite possible their homeowner’s policies don’t cover the damages they suffered.
Dale Allen, the Roanoke-Lynchburg manager for Kidds Restoration and Cleaning Services, said his company has been so swamped with calls from water-damaged homeowners that they’ve brought in equipment from three other states to handle the deluge in business.
Homeowners’ insurance coverage for damage due to groundwater “seepage,” Allen said, was not uncommon 10 years ago. “But now, that’s almost a thing of the past,” he said. Typically, insurance policies are renewed each year; insurance companies can make changes to the fine print during those renewals. Someone who had seepage coverage a decade ago may not realize they don’t have it today.
“The big takeaway from this is, even if you don’t have damage to your home, it’s a good time to sit down with your agent and say, ‘Let’s see what we do have covered and what we don’t.’ ” Allen said. “If you need additional coverage, it’s often available.”
Policyholders can usually buy additional sewer and drain backup coverage that may offer protection from the kind of damage the Wrights experienced, said Roanoke insurance agent Tom Mason (he was not the Wrights’ agent).
In their case, I was able to get hold of Auto Owners Insurance Co.’s headquarters in Lansing, Mich.
John Lindauer, the company’s spokesman, sounded aghast when I described the runaround Wright said he had been through trying to make a claim. Lindauer asked me for Wright’s phone number, called him personally and helped him file a claim Tuesday night.
An adjuster for Auto Owners was out at the Wrights’ home Wednesday. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Wright’s policy covers the water damage.
In Wright’s case, “it’s really too early to determine what, if any, coverage there is regarding a claim,” Lindauer told me. But at least the ball is rolling and Wright will be able to find out.
Rest assured, he will be checking his policy and its coverage and making some adjustments for the future.
As Allen noted, this might be a good time for you to check yours, too.