Living with Wildfires—Time for Flood Insurance

As I mentioned last week, recent California wildfires have caused insurance companies to increase premiums and deny coverage to many of the homeowners who need it most. What I didn’t mention was the increased need for flood insurance in this new wildfire era, because flooding and mudslides are far more likely when the vegetation that kept the earth in place has burned up.

Just so you know, homeowners’ insurance almost never includes flood or earthquake damage. Those require additional policies. I recommend working with a local insurance broker to find out what’s available.

As you research insurance options, you may hear terms like “admitted carriers” and “non-admitted carriers.” It’s important to know the difference. Admitted carriers, also called “licensed carriers,” are insurers who have filed their rates and specific requirements with the California Department of Insurance (CDI). Once those rates are filed, they cannot be changed without CDI approval. Also, admitted carriers participate in the California Insurance Guarantee Association (CIGA), which means if they go bankrupt, you’re still covered up to $500,000.

Non-admitted carriers, also called “surplus lines,” are insurers who provide insurance in California but who do not file their rates with the CDI. To operate legally, they still have to demonstrate financial stability, adhering to specific solvency standards established under the California Insurance Code. Many non-admitted insurance companies are admitted in another state or are subsidiaries of admitted insurance companies providing insurance in the state of California, so don’t cross them off your list. Non-admitted carriers can sometimes provide more flexible rates or terms. A list of approved non-admitted insurance companies can be found on the CDI website at www.insurance.ca.gov.

Whether you opt for an admitted or non-admitted insurance carrier, here’s what you need to know about flood insurance. The average policy costs around $600 per year and can take up to 30 days from date of purchase for the policy to go into effect. In a flood zone, the premium may be far higher. Flood insurance not only covers floods but also mudslides (usually), and because the risk of increased floods and mudslides from wildfire can last up to five years, I recommend having flood insurance for at least that long.

If your house is damaged by a mudslide, I recommend filing a claim with your homeowners’ insurance and your flood insurance carriers. If your claim is denied, ask for the denial in writing and consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in insurance to see if you should dispute the denial. You can also file a CDI Request for Assistance form that informs the State of your complaint and allows CDI to make sure insurance companies are playing by the rules.

Rather than waiting for flooding or mudslides to damage your property, I recommend planting fast-growing, deep-rooted plants in strategic areas around your property. You’ll get the dual benefit of flood protection and beautifying your property. Visit your local nursery for suggestions about what grows well in our area.

If you find yourself in a position where you cannot get the help you need from your insurance carrier, in a declared state of emergency you may be able to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or obtain low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Learn more from the Mendocino County Office of Emergency Services located at 951 Low Gap Road in Ukiah, or available via phone at (707) 467-6497 or email at OES@MendocinoCounty.org.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. To see previous articles, visit www.realtyworldselzer.com and click on “How’s the Market.” Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.



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