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Homeowner's insurance does not cover long-term water damage

6/21/2011 6:20:00 PM

As a homeowner, do you know what your insurance policy covers and what it doesn't? If you haven't taken the time to read through the fine print of your policy, we don't blame you. Contracts are extremely boring to read, and in the hustle and bustle of daily life, reading a bunch of legalese is the last thing most of us want to do. 

What too many homeowners forget, however, is that their insurance policy is indeed a contract. It's a legal document that spells out, in explicit detail, what you get from your insurance company in return for paying your monthly premium. 

Here's something that isn't covered in most homeowner's insurance policies: long-term damage. We recently spoke with Randy Petro, a senior claims manager at Mercury Insurance Group, who said the most commonly denied claims are for losses resulting from a long-term water leak. 

"Maybe it's a toilet that's leaking, with a gradual browning of the gasket, or a water supply line to the refrigerator that isn't visible unless you move the refrigerator," Petro said. These claims aren't covered because homeowner's insurance policies only cover losses that are sudden and accidental. If you just discovered a moldy, soggy wall because of a water line that has been broken for the past two months, that's a maintenance problem, not a sudden accident. Thus, your insurance company is not going to pay to fix it. 

Petro said the best way to avoid such issues is to stay on top of your maintenance as a homeowner. "Vigilance will go a long way to preventing those kinds of claims," he said. The National Center for Healthy Housing provides a great checklist of maintenance matters in your home or condo. They include: 

  • Check dishwasher hoses for leaks
  • Clean and check refrigerator dishpan and ice-maker connections
  • Check hot water heater for leaks
  • Check traps and drains under sinks, tubs and showers for leaks
  • Check washing machine hoses and connections

The above list is just a small handful of maintenance issues relating to plumbing and fixtures. There are other areas you should pay attention to as well: HVAC systems, electrical equipment, garage, attic, basement and crawlspace, etc. This complete checklist (PDF) is a great way to make sure you've covered everything. It even tells you what time of year to check for certain issues. 

Homeowners often get frustrated when their claims for long-term water damage losses get denied, but as Petro said, it all comes back to the contract. "We want to take care of our customers and we want to make sure they are satisfied," he said. "At the same time, it's important that customers know what their policy covers and what it doesn't." 

Don't get stuck paying the bill for easily-preventable losses! Stay on top of your maintenance and make sure you've read and fully understand your homeowner's insurance policy

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