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Remodeling University: If You Have Water Damage

Possibly the most common of damages to homes in Los Angeles, water damage presents particular challenges to the homeowners and their team.

You should be mindful that not all water damage is a covered loss under your policy. Most policies would limit coverage to accidental loss. So if a pipe burst in the house caused a flood and damage the home and its content, the loss is likely accidental and should be covered. If, on the other hand, you have a balcony that was not built or sealed correctly and during the last rain storm water leaked to the room below, your homeowners’ policy might not afford you coverage. You may have a construction defect claim against your builder or a warranty claim against whomever sealed this balcony last, but for the purpose of our discussion here (water damage loss and repair under your homeowners’ policy), this might not be a covered loss.

It is always a good practice to assume that you are covered. Do not rely solely on your insurance company’s input regarding coverage. When in doubt, check with your agent and have a Public Adjuster review your policy for feedback. I have seen claims rejected by insurance companies (especially in this area of loss, i.e. claims originating from water leaks), only to be later accepted and covered after we got involved.

While often not conceived as such by most homeowners, water is remarkably destructive to homes. Aside from the obvious staining and the bad smell standing water can cause, water is negative and pervasive in its affect on structures. It penetrates all assemblies (thus affecting and undermining substrates hidden from view), it delaminates adhesives (thus damaging structural plywood and all other wood products), left standing it can become a health hazard and, if water or moisture are allowed to remain, it promotes the growth of mold.

The first objective is therefore to to completely remove all water and excessive moisture from the building. The longer the water is allowed to remain behind, the greater the scope of the loss and the more expensive the remediation work would be. Unfortunately, insurance companies so often try to get by with doing less rather doing all that is needed and, just as often, move at glacial pace when demands are made by knowledgeable homeowners and their team members for proper testing and repairs, that what is an uncomplicated loss to start with becomes a very complicated and expensive loss to remediate and repair in the last.

What should you do:
1. Never rely solely on the insurance company’s feedback regarding coverage.
2. Assemble an experienced and qualified team to represent you. Start with a top-tier contractor that also has a lot of experience dealing with insurance losses (not any that your insurance company suggests- these contractors have experience dealing with insurance related losses, but from the insurance company’s side.) Your team should also include a Public Adjuster and an Hygienist. Your contractor should be able to help you locate the best consultants there.
3. This is a different ‘exercise’ from a typical remodel. Look for the best contractor you can find. Not for the cheapest you can afford. You are not paying for the repairs.
4. Report the claim right away to both the insurance company and your agent.
5. Document everything. Log all phone calls, conversations, etc. noting date, time, who you spoke with and what was said/discussed/decided or promised. Take a lot of pictures.
6. Find your policy, read it and familiarize yourself with your coverage and your rights.
7. Hand over management of the claim to your PA or to your contractor as soon as possible.
8. Remember: you are under no obligation to get the insurance company 3 estimates and you are under no obligation (neither is your contractor) to accept the prices proposed by your insurance adjuster. These numbers rarely make sense.
9. It is the insurance company’s obligation to remediate, restore and repair all damages and bring your home to pre-loss condition! This is a huge statement, the ramifications of which can only be fully realized when you have a competent team representing you.
10. Never deal directly and without representation with your insurance company.

No one plans on water damage. Los Angeles homes are built to resist rather significant earthquakes. None is immune to water damage though. When water does accidentally causes damage to your home, follow the above to insure your loss is properly adjusted, adequately scoped and professionally and fully repaired.

Good luck!

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