When the flood waters left behind by Hurricane Harvey eventually recede, they will leave behind billions of dollars in property damage. However, a large majority of homeowners will likely have to spend their own money to make their homes livable again.
The Consumer Federation of America estimates that — because of the limited availability of flood insurance and damage limitations placed on most homeowners’ policies — eight out of ten homeowners with flood damage from Harvey don’t have insurance that will cover their claims.
Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner and Federal Insurance Administrator, tells the Associated Press that the lack of insurance could result in Texas homeowners paying as much as $28 billion out-of-pocket for Harvey-inflicted repairs.
Limitations On Coverage
The CFA notes that insurance companies have gradually increased the deductibles associated with hurricane coverage while generally limiting the types of damage they will pay to repair in the wake of a natural disaster.
Most homeowner insurance policies only cover wind damage, not flood damage. In fact, to repair water damage, most homeowners insurance policies require that the damage be the result of water entering the home through a window that is blown out from wind.
For actual flood insurance, individuals must purchase coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. This insurance is generally only available to — and is frequently required of — homeowners with federally backed mortgages livings in areas vulnerable to flooding.
The AP notes that while there are around 1.2 million properties in Houston deemed to be at moderate to high risk for flooding, these buildings are not situated in designated flood zones where the flood insurance is required.
According to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data, only 17% of homeowners in the counties most affected by Harvey have flood insurance.
Still, CFA estimates that insurance companies will pay about $7 billion for more than 150,000 anticipated flood and wind damage claims submitted after the storm.
However, the agency cautions that claims, insurance payments, and out-of-pocket costs could increase depending on how much rainfall occurs in certain areas of Houston.
If You Don’t Have Insurance
While the wind damage to properties in Texas was significant during Harvey, the 12-50 inches of rain that have fallen in the area so far may prove even more damaging.
Hunter tells the AP that homeowners without flood insurance could try to apply for federal disaster relief benefits.
However, these benefits aren’t the same as insurance coverage. Instead, they are similar to low-interest loans, that must be repaid.
For those who don’t have federal flood insurance, advocates urge them to contact their homeowners’ insurance company anyway.
“Don’t assume you won’t [receive money from an insurer] if you don’t see problems with the naked eye,” Kristin Sullivan, a financial planner, tells MarketWatch.
Filing A Claim
Consumers suffering home damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey are urged to contact their insurance companies as soon as possible.
CFA notes that while the federal government underwrites flood insurance coverage, actual insurance companies service claims.
As a result, homeowners should follow the same procedures as they would with a traditional claim.
CFA offers several tips for individuals filing, including to keep clear records of the damage and their interactions with the insurance company.
“Because so many consumers experienced severe claims problems in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Harvey to be vigilant with their insurance companies, including the insurers settling National Flood Insurance claims, to ensure that they receive a full and fair settlement,” Hunter said in a statement.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.