HOUSTON — As we continue to thaw out after last week's freeze, a lot of you are dealing with damage to your home from pipes that have burst. Below is what you need to know about insurance.
Our sister station, KENS5 in San Antonio got the following answers from Bankrate on Texas insurance when it comes to busted pipes for homeowners. And under the Q and A, KHOU 11 reporter David Gonzalez reports on the rights that renters have.
While these are a lot of questions and answers, it's always best to check with your individual insurance company on your specific coverage
Q: Does homeowners insurance cover busted pipes?
A: Homeowners insurance does cover damage from busted pipes. The protection homeowners have is usually two-fold: first, insurers commonly explicitly cover damage that's caused by burst or ruptured pipes. Secondly, many policies reference power failures to say that as long as an offsite failure results in covered damages to property, the insurer will cover the loss. Water would be such a covered condition if it caused the pipes to burst.
Q: Why is the situation complicated in Texas?
A: Insurers do not cover damages that were caused by plumbing freezes unless the claimant took reasonable steps — like maintaining heat and turning off one's water — to prevent the situation from worsening.
“I’m sure there’s going to be litigation after this. With the insurance companies trying to define alongside the policyholder, what that reasonable action looks like,” said Andrew Hurst, LendingTree insurance expert. “The silver lining is that millions of people are going through the same thing. If your home suffers damage, you lose some property, chances are many Texans are experiencing the same thing. That means the insurance providers are going to have a protocol in place right now. This is not going to be a unique case.”
Q: Will backed up water pose a problem?
A: People also might experience problems if the water damage in their homes resulted from drain seepage or a sink backup. Without an endorsement — or add-on — for this type of damage, most providers explicitly exclude this type of damage from coverage.
“You can adjust an endorsement based on how much property you have. So, if you have 10 thousand dollars worth of property, you could adjust for that. Or if you had 20 thousand dollars worth of property that you suspect may be in danger, you could cover that much. That way, you don’t have to pay more than you need to,” explained Hurst.
Q: What if there is flooding in my home?
A: Damage from flood water, including excess ground water, isn't coverable by a regular homeowners or renters insurance policy. A homeowner would need a separate flood insurance policy to claim damage on the effects of melting snow, for instance, discharging back into the home.
Q: What if my roof collapses?
A: Homeowners should be okay. Homeowners insurance does cover accidents if a policyholder's roof collapses. One reason that insurers may deny a claim would be if a claimant knew about structural decay or damage in the home prior to collapse. For example, if they were putting off repairs of a leaky roof or a defect that they otherwise found a way to live with. Under these circumstances, a policyholder might have a much harder time.
But what about renters when the pipes burst?
John Boriack, president of the Houston Apartment Association, said it comes down to whether or not folks had renter’s insurance.
He said with so many people affected by this cold weather, there is no time to waste.
Repairs in homes damaged by broken pipes during the extreme cold weather in Texas are underway. In Houston. Boriack said apartments across the city suffered damage.
“We had our maintenance teams working almost around the clock running from apartment to apartment trying to cap leaks off and mitigate damages and get services restored to residents as quickly as possible,” Boriack said.
He hopes people who were affected had renter’s insurance.
“If you had damage, you need to file a claim through your renter’s insurance as quickly as possible to cover the damages to your personal property, contents inside your home,” Boriack said.
Make sure to document everything by taking pictures and video and keep receipts related to the incident.
Boriack said because of the widespread damage, insurance claims may take longer than usual.
“Nobody’s dealt with this level of claims before and this wave of claims,” Boriack said. “Everybody in Houston almost has this damage so insurance companies of course are going to be a little slower than normal process requests.”
He said a building’s structure like the pipes, walls and siding are covered by the property owners’ insurance.
“Renters are not responsible for covering the cost of repairing busted pipes in the ceiling or anything like that. They are responsible to report it to the management and we highly recommend that you do that quickly and in writing," Boriack said.
If you don’t have renter’s insurance, you may qualify for assistance from FEMA or local charities.
Boriack said if there’s a disagreement with the landlord as to who is responsible for the damage and fixing it, contact the Houston Apartment Association’s renter’s helpline.
FEMA will offer assistance after major declaration approved
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Saturday that residents who live in these 77 counties who suffered damage from the winter storm event can apply for disaster assistance.
If you have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance, you must also file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible.
FEMA said by law, it can't duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If insurance does not cover all your damage, you may be eligible for federal assistance. The fastest way to apply is online at www.disasterassistance.gov.
If you don't have internet access you can register by calling 800-621-3362 or TTY: 800-462-7585. The phone lines operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT each day.