Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Landslides: Does homeowners insurance cover that?

There was a large landslide on Whidbey Island early this morning, reportedly knocking one home off its foundation, destroying a road and threatening multiple other homes. Photos from the scene -- like this one, or this one -- are pretty amazing.

Anytime this happens in the rainy Northwest -- and it does happen with some regularity -- we get phone calls from people wondering if their homeowners insurance covers landslides.

The answer: Sorry, but probably not.

Mudslides and landslides are NOT covered by a standard homeowners policy, which is what most people have. So it can be very difficult to collect for losses caused by any form of land movement.

So what can you do if you're worried about a potential landslide affecting your home? You may be able to buy a special rider -- i.e. an add-on -- to your homeowners policy that includes coverage for contents for all perils, including earth movement, unless the policy specifically excludes it. But these types of riders typically only cover the contents of your home, not the structure, and some insurers don't offer this option at all.

For the structure, you may be able to buy separate earth-movement coverage from what's known as the "surplus lines" market, meaning insurers who specialize in risks that the traditional insurance industry doesn't cover. But know that if your home is on a steep hillside, it may be difficult to get this kind of coverage.

For the folks affected by the slide this morning, it would be worth checking with their lenders. Mortgage lenders in some cases require earth-movement coverage as a condition of a loan. Although such insurance protects the lender, rather than the homeowner, it could help if the home is no longer useable.
Complicating things for folks close to a landslide, insurers often declare moratoriums on new coverage until a particular event is completely over. We've seen this with earthquakes (due to the fear of aftershocks) and sometimes during wildfire season in parts of Eastern Washington.

"Wait a minute -- I thought insurance companies can't have waiting periods for pre-existing conditions!"

We’re hearing this a lot these days, because people are aware that the federal health care reform law affects pre-existing condition waiting periods.
For kids under 19, this part of the health care reform law has already gone into effect. So insurance companies cannot apply pre-existing condition waiting periods when kids go on health insurance policies.
Here's where the confusion comes in: the rules are different for adults. But not for long.

Starting Jan. 1, 2014, the same rule that now applies to kids -- no waiting period for pre-existing conditions -- will apply to adults. For now, however, insurance companies can, and do, apply pre-existing condition waiting periods when adults go on policies.

So hang in there. Starting in January, health insurance companies have to cover treatment for pre-existing conditions starting as soon as you go on the policy.