Is it possible to protect your properties from Mother Nature?
By BreAnn Stephenson
With recent tornadoes and severe storms cropping up in the Midwest, this year’s storm season has come in like a lion. And this is only the beginning. You can’t stop Mother Nature, but is there anything that can be done to minimize damage to your properties? There are steps that you can, and in some cases must, take so that your insurance coverage is not voided after a loss occurs. Heed the following tips to prevent bad from turning into worse.
WHAT IMMEDIATE STEPS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE AFTER A STORM?
First, know that you as an insured have a contractual duty to prevent further damage when a loss occurs at your property. Check the section of your policy labeled “Duties in the Event of a Loss” for your specific responsibilities. The items contained in that section are very sensible and reasonable, so don’t worry that you will find surprising requirements or be asked to do anything that any prudent person wouldn’t do in the event of a loss.
Some examples might include securing the property from unlawful entry after high winds and flying debris damage doors and windows, or putting a tarp on a roof that has been compromised by tree damage.
In any type of loss, you will usually be required to:
- Contact your insurance company in a timely manner to advise them of the loss.
- Contact the authorities when appropriate.
- If a crime has been committed, file a police report.
- In the event of a fire, file a fire report.
- Take photos or videos of the damage, or both.
- Make any necessary temporary repairs to prevent further damage to the property.
- Set aside any damaged materials for the adjuster to examine.
- Save all receipts from any temporary repairs made.
- Get an estimate from a reliable contractor. (Obtaining several is advisable.)
BE AWARE OF SCAMMERS WANTING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there looking to take advantage of those who have just suffered a loss, especially after natural disasters. You may not be able to avoid a storm, but if you are on your guard, you could avoid becoming a victim in the aftermath.
The Oklahoma Insurance Department recommends the following when hiring service providers after a disaster:
- Always be present when someone inspects your property. Companies may try to take advantage of you and your insurance company by causing additional damage to increase the repair cost.
- Never pay a repair bill in full until the work is completed according to your contract with the provider.
- Anyone who offers to get you more money for your insurance claim warrants additional caution.
- Always hire an established, licensed and fully insured company. Check the references they give you.
- Reputable contractors should be able to provide you with their certificate of liability insurance. If they have employees, they should also carry worker’s comp coverage.
- To help ensure coverage is in force while the contractor is working for you, you can ask to be added as an additional insured on their policy. If the policy lapses or cancels, you should be notified. In most cases, there is no fee to get you added to the policy.
- Written estimates should include a detailed breakdown of the type and quantity of materials as well as hours of labor needed to complete the job.
- Please note: Your signature is NOT required to receive an estimate. Some scammers may use this tactic to trap you into signing a contract.
- A formal repair contract should include approximate start and completion dates, as well as payment procedures. It also should guarantee that the contractor will secure any necessary permits.
- Fully read any warranty and make sure you are aware of any conditions that would void it.
- A bid that is substantially lower than other bids for the same scope of work is usually missing something significant. Review all bids carefully to ensure there aren’t items missing or unnecessary items added to the scope of work.
- High-pressure tactics can be a red flag. Don’t let the heightened stress following a loss cause you to rush the process of hiring a quality service provider.
PROACTIVE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO AVOID ADDITIONAL LOSS AT YOUR PROPERTY
When it comes to the aftermath of storms, there are usually two main types of damage: one, damage to the property itself, such as broken windows, lifted or missing shingles or holes in the roof; or two, water … and lots of it. Quickly secure the property by using tarps or plywood to cover any areas where additional rain could enter the structure. This will help prevent further water damage and discourage thieves looking for easy access points to the property.
Any water damage can cause mold to grow rapidly, so you will want to act immediately to get wet items dried out.
Bring in fans, put furniture on blocks and remove area rugs from the floor. Advise tenants to clean clothing, linens and other washables that have been soaked as soon as possible. Take care around electrical appliances if the carpet or flooring is wet as these can cause shock hazards. If the water damage is the result of a flood, beware of dislodged materials from your property, such as nails. Lastly, rats, snakes and other “creepy crawlies” may attempt to seek shelter in your property after a flood, so beware!
Boarding a Property
When a storm compromises entry points like windows and doors, properly boarding up your property can help deter thieves and vandals. Find reliable board-up tips from the United States Fire Administration here: U.S.F.A. Board-Up Procedures.
Mold can set in very quickly when a property has sustained even small amounts of water damage. The EPA has a whole guide covering the causes of mold, cleanup guidelines and mold prevention and control tips.