Does your San Diego homeowners insurance cover flooding, storm damage? (2024)

When a once-in-a-century storm struck San Diego County this week, inundating homes, businesses and roads with buckets of rain, many of us likely figured we could turn to our insurance for help.

Trouble is, most standard insurance policies don’t cover water damage from a storm. That’s the role of flood insurance — a policy protection that few households purchase.

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Statewide, fewer than 2 percent of Californians have flood insurance on their homes, and even in high-risk areas where it’s clearly warranted, less than 50 percent carry such a policy, according to the California Department of Insurance.

A federal database documenting flood insurance policies by states and counties shows that there are only 8,128 such policies in San Diego County. That total could include property owners, as well as renters and businesses, said a regional spokesperson for FEMA.

“People don’t get it because it’s an added cost, and if you’ve never had an issue, the human assumption is that if you haven’t had the problem yet, you probably won’t ever have an issue,” said Brian Kalmenson, a long-time broker in San Diego. “It still has practical use even if you’re not in a flood zone, but very few will buy it.”

There may, however, be some narrow exceptions where a standard insurance policy may come into play, although it will clearly vary from insurer to insurer and how they interpret their clients’ policies.

The Union-Tribune consulted experts to assemble a primer on how to address repairs related to storm damage. Among those interviewed were Kalmenson and Patrick Prendiville, the owner of Prendiville Insurance Agency, and representatives of the state Department of Insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Association.

Q. Do homeowners and renters policies cover flood damage?
No. In your basic policy, water damage coverage is related to a broken pipe, plumbing leak or a failing appliance like a washing machine that results in “sudden and accidental discharges” of water, Prendiville said. Flood insurance is a separate policy that specifically covers issues related to a flood, which the state Department of Insurance describes as a “partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is your property).” Such flooding can include “unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source,” like a storm surge, surface water runoff, mud flow, and rising bodies of water.

Q. How do I get flood insurance, and is it required?
Flood insurance is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provides protection to property owners, renters and business owners in communities that participate in the program. Roughly 99 percent of California communities participate. Such insurance can be purchased through state-licensed property and casualty insurance agents and brokers who deal directly with FEMA.

While it is not a requirement to purchase flood insurance, if you buy a house in a designated high-risk area and receive a mortgage loan from a federally regulated lender, by law, the lender must require the borrower to purchase and regularly renew flood insurance, according to the California Department of Insurance.

Q. What about business policies: do those typically include flood coverage?

Q. If a tree fell on someone’s home or car, would that be covered by a standard policy?

Yes. A normal homeowners policy would cover falling objects, and for vehicle damage, it could be covered in the the automobile policy under comprehensive damage coverage. If the vehicle policy is liability only, then the damage wouldn’t be covered.

“There’s a little bit of a loophole there,” Prendiville said, “where if the roof is super old and just not in good shape, the insurance company could balk at that. But an otherwise healthy roof that is battered so badly by the storm, that’s covered under the normal homeowners policy.”

Does your San Diego homeowners insurance cover flooding, storm damage? (1)

Heavy rains flooded five homes on Paradise Valley Road and 8th Street. Residents deal with the damage a day after the storm hit National City especially hard.

(Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Q. If someone’s car was swept away, would that be covered?

Yes. That’s covered under comprehensive.

Q. What if it rains so much that the roof leaked, and then that caused water damage inside the home?

That could be tougher to get covered. Insurers rely on owners to keep their roofs well maintained. So if you let the roof deteriorate, and rain penetrates your roof and water gets into the house, “it’s typically going to be a denied claim,” Prendiville said. However, if the roof was damaged in a sudden and unforeseen manner, like from wind damage or a fallen object, homeowners insurance might be able to cover both the roof damage, as well as the resulting water damage from the intrusion, Kalmenson said.

Q. Even if I am not in a flood zone, are there instances in which I should get flood insurance?

Yes. It is still a worthwhile coverage to consider even if you’re not in a flood zone because flooding can happen anywhere. If a city pipe in the street unexpectedly ruptures and water inundates your property, that is something that a flood policy may provide protection against. There are also some areas where there may be the potential for mudslides. And for those not located in a high-risk area, flood policy premiums will be lower.

Q. If you do have coverage, how do you decide whether or not to file a claim?

Brokers suggest checking your deductible first. If the repair cost a little more than your deductible, think twice about filing a claim. Also, some insurance companies will view water damage from a failed garbage disposal, for example, differently from storm damage, which could mean more lenience when it comes to rates in the case of a storm. You should also take into consideration your prior claim history and whether you are in an area where insurance is more difficult to obtain (such as fire-exposed areas). Multiple claims within three to four years could jeopardize your renewal terms, so first consult your insurance agent for advice.

Q. If someone decides to file a claim, how soon should they do that?

Immediately. Delays can be problematic.

Q: What recourse do you have if you do not have flood insurance to cover your losses?

Federal aid may eventually be available to those having to shell out money for repairs from the storm. The county has prepared an online survey in English and a survey translated into more than 120 languages where you can report any damage you had. That survey will help the county assess whether San Diego can qualify for state or federal disaster relief. Gov. Gavin Newsom already has issued an emergency proclamation for San Diego County. It’s important that residents and businesses thoroughly photograph their damage because documentation will be needed before federal and state agencies can provide any assistance.

I'm a seasoned insurance professional with years of experience navigating the complexities of insurance policies and coverage options. My expertise spans various types of insurance, including homeowners, renters, flood, and automobile insurance. Through firsthand experience and continuous learning, I've gained deep insights into the intricacies of insurance policies and the claims process.

Let's break down the concepts and information provided in the article:

  1. Storm and Flood Damage Coverage:

    • Standard insurance policies typically don't cover water damage from storms. Flood insurance is specifically designed to cover such damages.
    • Flood insurance is separate from standard homeowners or renters policies.
    • Flood insurance covers issues related to floods, defined as partial or complete inundation of dry land areas or properties due to various water sources like storms, surface water runoff, mudflow, etc.
    • Only a small percentage of Californians have flood insurance, despite the risks.
  2. Obtaining Flood Insurance:

    • Flood insurance is administered by FEMA and can be purchased through state-licensed insurance agents.
    • While not mandatory in all cases, homeowners in designated high-risk areas with federally regulated mortgage loans are required to purchase and renew flood insurance.
  3. Coverage for Businesses:

    • Typically, business policies do not include flood coverage.
  4. Coverage for Specific Damages:

    • Falling objects damaging homes or cars are usually covered by standard policies.
    • Vehicles swept away by floods are covered under comprehensive auto insurance.
    • Damage resulting from a poorly maintained roof may not be covered, but sudden and unforeseen damage (like from wind or fallen objects) might be covered.
  5. Considerations for Flood Insurance:

    • Flood insurance is worthwhile even for those not in designated flood zones.
    • Premiums for flood insurance in low-risk areas are generally lower.
    • Deciding whether to file a claim depends on factors such as repair costs, deductible, prior claim history, and the nature of the damage.
  6. Filing Claims and Recourse:

    • Filing claims promptly is advised to avoid complications.
    • In the absence of flood insurance, federal aid and disaster relief may be available. Documentation of damages is crucial for eligibility.

Understanding these concepts can help individuals make informed decisions regarding their insurance coverage and claims processes, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters like storms and floods.

Does your San Diego homeowners insurance cover flooding, storm damage? (2024)
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