Massachusetts Storm Insurance Coverage

Hurricane Irene Damage, Maryland (courtesy David Yarkin)

If It’s Wet, It’s Probably Not Covered. If It’s Wind, It Is Probably Covered.

What Type of Hurricane Damage Is Covered Under A Massachusetts Homeowners Insurance Policy?

I’m writing this post as I watch Hurricane Irene bore down on Massachusetts, scattering my lawn with tree branches and flickering my lights. My Facebook stream is filling with reports of power outages and basement flooding, but luckily I’ve been spared (for now). *Check that–we’ve had no power since 11am on Sunday, a live wire down on our street, and not an NStar crew to be found anywhere!

Being the dorky real estate attorney that I am, I naturally thought to myself, what type of hurricane damage, if any, is covered under a standard Massachusetts homeowner’s insurance coverage? Well, after some research the short answer is that if it’s wet, it’s probably not covered, but if it’s wind, it is probably covered.

Flooding and Water Damage

Flooding — defined by insurers as any water that rises from the ground or from the sky, including tidal waves, as well as destruction from rapid snow melts — aren’t covered by Massachusetts homeowner’s insurance policies. So the flooded basements from all this rain is likely not covered.

To get reimbursed for water damage, homeowners would need additional flood insurance, which is provided by the federal government but can be purchased through an agent or insurance company. The average flood premium is about $600 annually, but rates go up to nearly $6,000 for the highest-risk coastal properties, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Homeowners who live in flood zones probably have flood insurance already: Many lenders won’t provide these home buyers with a mortgage unless they’ve signed up for flood coverage. These homeowners can rest (relatively) easy; if their home floods, flood insurance will pay for that damage. Those unlucky homeowner’s in the interior parts of the state aren’t so lucky.

Wind Damage/Downed Trees

Basic homeowners insurance policies do, however, typically pay for damage caused by winds — including broken windows, torn roofs and any interior damage from water falling into the home. Likewise, if strong winds blow tree limbs or entire trees onto a home, garage or shed, it’s likely covered. (If a tree falls onto a car, many comprehensive auto policies will cover the damage.)

But in many states on the East Coast, homeowners may have to pay a hefty deductible before homeowners’ insurance policies kick in for wind damage — often 1% to 5% of the total amount the home is insured for.

Serious Damage

If a home becomes so damaged that it’s uninhabitable, most standard homeowner policies will pay for a family’s living expenses — including lodging and food — while the house is being repaired.

Making A Claim

As with any insurance damage claim, my advice has always been document, document, document. Take photos and video of the damage. Keep all receipts for fans, blowers, wet vacs, sump pumps, repairs, new windows, etc. Be prepared to wait for the insurance companies to process the thousands of claims arising from Hurricane Irene. And of course, stay safe!