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Flood Insurance Advice J. Douglas Sunseri

FLOOD INSURANCE POLICIES TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM HOMEOWNERS POLICIES

There are short and firm deadlines for submitting flood claims. Flood claims provide fewer benefit categories than a homeowner's policy. The policy is rigid and written into federal law.

In filing your flood claim, take lots of photos of the damage before removing any damaged items. Also, starting any dry out or repairs.

  • Keep a diary of conversations and events related to your flood claim;
  • Be cooperative and as polite your adjuster and let them to inspect all damage to property;
  •  Provide documentation of all flood damage
  •  Get independent estimates to from license contractors, preferably use the Xactimate software program
  •  If the adjuster tells you damage isn't covered, get legal help.

There are short and firm deadlines for submitting flood claim paperwork and fewer benefit categories than a homeowner's policy. A written "Proof of Loss" must be filed within 60 days of August 14, 2016. The Proof of Loss must have the estimate of all damages and a comprehensive list of all contents damaged. If you fail to submit a Proof of Loss by December 12, 2016, then there would not be entitled to any additional payments from a flood policy. Many flood victims were denied additional payments from their flood policy because a Proof of Loss with the full extent of documented damages was not submitted by December 12, 2016. FEMA's flood insurance fund is nearly insolvent. Therefore, the government will continue to punitively utilize these deadlines to minimize payouts for flood damages.

FILING FEMA REQUIRED PROOF OF LOSS FOR BUILDING AND CONTENTS CLAIM

In order to maximizing your flood insurance claim, an insured homeowner must fully comply with the absolute requirement to file a FEMA designated Proof of Loss by December 12, 2016 with an attached detailed computation of the full extent of flood damages (not necessarily the damages determined by the claims adjuster) and a detailed list of items damaged. The contents list shall contain a brief description, age, any applicable make and model numbers and location of the damaged items with an approximate replacement value.

CLAIMS ADJUSTORS GIVING FALSE INFORMATION REGARDING SUPPLEMENTAL PAYMENTS

We have received numerous reports that flood adjustors are giving incorrect information that could prevent a homeowner with flood insurance from collecting a supplemental payment after a low or inadequate initial payment. Initial payments for flood insurance for structure and contents are often low. However, the flood adjustors are telling unsatisfied homeowners if repayments are deficient, supplemental payments will be made after the completion of the work. However, the flood insurers are not informing the policyholder that a timely FEMA designated Proof of Loss Claim must be filed by the policyholder to preserve the maximum extent of damages.

In order to collect the full extent of damages, the homeowner must fully comply with the absolute requirement to file a FEMA designated Proof of Loss Claim by December 12, 2016 with an attached detailed estimate of the full extent of flood damages (not necessarily the damages determined by the Claims Adjustor) and a detailed list of damaged contents. If a FEMA designated Proof of Loss Claim is not filed for the maximum amount of damages, then a flooded homeowner will not have any right to supplemental payments, even if the flood insurer acknowledged that the homeowner was underpaid in the initial payment.

For example, a flooded home has $100,000.00 in damage to building and $50,000.00 in contents. The flood insurers submitted an initial payment of $50,000.00 for building and $10,000.00 for contents. Accordingly, the claims adjustor will request the homeowner to sign a FEMA designated Proof of Loss for $50,000.00 for structure and $10,000.00 for contents in order to obtain the initial payment. In such case, the policyholder must file a separate and distinct FEMA designated Proof of Loss Claim reflecting $100,000.00 in damages for building with an attached estimate and $50,000.00 with listing of damaged contents to preserve the right to collect the full extent of flood damages. The homeowner's Proof of Loss must be filed before the December 12, 2016 deadline. If a Proof of Loss is not filed for the full extent of damages, ($100,000.00 structure and $50,000.00 contents in this example) before December 12, 2016 deadline, homeowners would not be entitled to any supplemental payments.

Please note, if the FEMA Proof of Loss Claim is filed for the full extent of damages, then the homeowner preserves his right to receive a supplemental payment for the full extent of damages through further negotiation, appraisal process or court action. Unfortunately, the claims representatives (in most cases, unknowingly) are stating that homeowners can file for a supplemental claim complying with the absolute requirement to file their own FEMA Proof of Loss Claim with an estimates and list of damaged contents. This failure to inform homeowners of this requirement occurred after Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, Isaac and Sandy. The courts have uniformly ruled that even thought the claims adjustor gave improper or misleading information regarding the procedure to obtain a supplemental payment, the homeowner is still responsible for filing a timely FEMA Proof of Loss Claim.

Unfortunately, the misinformation will cause many homeowners to lose the right to collect the full extent of damages for failing to preserve the full extent of their claim. Please note, it is ok to sign the Proof of Loss provided by the flood insurer but the homeowner must submit their own Proof of Loss with an attached estimate of the full extent of flood damages to the home and list of damaged contents. Admittedly, this provision in the National Flood Policy is confusing and misleading, especially given the misinformation provided by the many flood insurers. Summarily, the homeowner's failure to comply with the Proof of Loss requirement allows the flood insurer to limit its payout for flood damages.

OBTAINING PAYMENT FOR REPLACEMENT OF AIR CONDITION UNIT AS OPPOSED A LOWER PAYMENT FOR REPAIR OR CLEANING FOR AIR-CONDITIONING UNIT

Water damage is a highly destructive force. When your air-conditioning unit is submerged under water, it will destroy the electrical components as well as circuit boards. Also, flood water can damage coils and lift your air-conditioning unit off of its foundation. Many claims adjusters will allocate a lesser payment for cleaning or repairing your air condition unit because it may be operational after the flood. However, you should insist the on full and complete payment for replacement (as opposed to repair or cleaning) of your flood-damaged air-conditioning unit.

The obvious effect of flood waters on your air-conditioning unit is a corrosion and corresponding fire hazard. Also, flood waters are contaminated with chemicals, oil and gas found on the street, ground, homes and other commercial spaces. Any equipment and component parts that have been contaminated with flood water are subject to future corrosion and airflow that can spread mold spores, chemicals and volatile organic compounds. Also, air conditioner manufacturers will no longer honor a warranty on equipment due to contact with flood water. Metal alloys have the potential for corrosion and pitting over time once exposed to flood water and other corrosive compounds even though it may not require immediate replacement. Also, insulated lines will soak up and trap moisture from the flood water.

For these reasons, homeowners with flood damage should insist the flood insurer to pay for the full cost of replacement of any air condition units that has been fully or partially submerged in flood waters, whether or not it is or can be made operational.

OBTAINING PAYMENT FOR REPLACEMENT OF FLOORING AS OPPOSED TO LOWER INSURANCE PAYMENT FOR CLEANING OF FLOORING

Replacing flooring after flooding will likely require you to pull up all of the old flooring and start fresh. However, the claims adjuster for the flood insurer may attempt to allocate a lower payment for merely maintaining and cleaning the old flooring. The following will provide information to advocate for a full payment for replacement of flood damaged flooring as opposed to a substantially lower insurance payment for merely cleaning the old flooring.

Floors are cemented into place. Flood waters will often result in floor tiles becoming loose or "debonding" of the floor tiles. Debonding occurs when water breaks the seal between the tile and the concrete which bonds the tile to the floor. Debonding occurs during prolonged flooding. You can determine if tiles are debonded by simply tapping on the tiles with a broom handle of screw driver handle. Properly affixed tiles will sound and feel solid. Loose tiles will have a hollow sound when tapped or will feel loose.

Where the surface tile is highly porous, staining materials can penetrate and may not be removable. The same applies to stone tiles, and the porous rock types are much more likely to suffer permanent marking and discoloration. Cement-based grouts can suffer staining that cannot be removed.

'Moisture unstable tiles' - those that warp or change dimension - can create problems when flooded because any expansion or warping (usually from the top down) can crack the grout and damage the adhesive bed. Where there is evidence of tile movement or warping, it is almost inevitable that the tiles will need to be replaced.

Laminate flooring is technically resistant to water damage. If water is spilled on laminate flooring but promptly wiped it up, then the floor will suffer no damage. Unfortunately, the situation changes for prolonged flooding. When laminate flooring becomes saturated with flood water, it becomes warped and damaged.

If the seams between laminate floor planks get saturated, swelling occurs. In such case, the only option is to replace the planks. Finding perfectly matching laminate for a theoretical repair is extremely difficult. Therefore, replacement is usually the recommended option.

Other signs of damaged flooring may consist of the following:

  • Puffy/Swollen Plank Edges- Excessive Cupping- Excessive Crowning- Excessive Buckling- Excessive Cracking- Excessive Splitting

Remember, when flood damaged flooring cannot be cleaned or has suffered physical damage, there is no choice but to REPLACE and not simply clean and require the insurance company to pay for a full replacement of flooring.

OBTAINING PAYMENT FOR INCREASED COST OF COMPLIANCE (ICC)

If your home was damaged by a flood, your flood policy provides Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage.

Your ICC claim is adjusted separately from the flood damage claim under your flood policy. You can only file an ICC claim if it is determined that your home was substantially damaged or repetitively damaged by a flood. This determination is made when you apply for a building permit to begin repairing your home or business.

  • ICC coverage does not have a separate deductible.
  • ICC pays to comply with floodplain management laws; the coverage does not extend to improvements such as remodeling or building an addition.
  • ICC coverage does not apply to detached garages or carports, decks, patios, and other surfaces located outside the perimeter exterior walls of the insured building.
  • ICC will cover the cost of architectural and engineering fees associated with a design for elevating, relocating or flood proofing a substantially damaged structure.
  • The mitigation repairs must be completed within 2 years of the substantial damage declaration.

You may be able to receive a partial payment once the claims representative has a copy of the signed contract for the work, a permit from the community to do the work, and a return of your signed ICC Proof of Loss. If the work is not completed, you must return any partial payment. When the work is completed, local officials will inspect and issue a certificate of occupancy or a confirmation letter.

TIPS ON HIRING A LICENSED CONTRACTOR TO REPAIR DAMAGED HOMES:

  • Get a written estimate. Compare services and prices before a final decision. Make sure the contractor has a permanent business location in Louisiana.
  • Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide names of previous customers.
  • Ask for proof of insurance. Verify the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property.
  • Use Louisiana licensed contractors. Unlicensed and out of state contractors are not accountable and can leave Louisiana without consequence after performing substandard or deficient work. An occupational license is NOT a contractor's license. Beware of door-to-door out of a state salesman. It is a violation of law for an unlicensed contractor to perform repair work valued more than $7,500.00.
  • Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should clearly state all tasks to be performed, all costs and the payment schedule. Insert a definite completion date in the contract. A verbal promise is probably not enforceable. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Verify the contract states who will pay for all materials and will apply for permits or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract, if unsure.
  • Set a payment schedule in the contract. Make the final payment only after the work has been completed to your satisfaction. Do not pay more than a 10% as initial payment or deposit upon signing an agreement.
  • Get guarantees in writing. Any guarantees and warranties should be written into the contract.
  • Obtain a local building permit. Permits will be required for site work other than demolition and for reconstruction.
  • Make final payments only after the work and punch list is completed. Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until all work and punch list items are fully completed to your satisfaction. Do not allow your progress payments get ahead of completed work.
  • Pay by Check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The safest route is to write a check for payment. Keep all receipts.
  • Beware of change orders. Changes should truly be for unforeseeable exceptions. Be skeptical of change orders for work covered by the original contract and estimate.
  • Subcontractor and Suppliers. Keep the names and contact info of all subcontractors and trades utilized by your contractor. Verify subcontractors are licensed. Demand proof of payment by contractor prior to a progress payment or subcontractor can lien you home.
  • Contractors Recommended by Claims Adjuster. You have the right to hire the contractor of your choice. Report any claims adjuster who attempts to convince you to hire a specific contractor.

MOLD REMEDIATION OF FLOOD DAMAGE HOMES

Mold growth arises from continued and residual water exposure. Often, mold manifests in unseen areas such as between walls and baseboards. Mold increases the risk of respiratory diseases especially in children and people with compromised immune systems. The failure to fully remediate a flood damaged home before repairs could greatly decrease the value of your home.

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