We’re now firmly in the middle of sinkhole season, and the tragic footage of Jeff Bush’s sinkhole death is still fresh on everyone’s mind. Most sinkholes aren’t so deadly or so dramatic, but they can be very damaging to homes, which led us to ask: what kind of sinkhole insurance coverage do central Florida homeowners get?
The answer is a bit mixed. In Florida all homeowner’s insurance policies are required, by law, to provide some sort of sinkhole coverage. We’re one of only two states that requires this coverage: if you don’t live here, or in Tennessee, then you might need to purchase sinkhole coverage separately if you want it.
However, there are also loopholes in Florida’s law that can make sinkhole coverage problematic. It’s simply not the perfect protection you might hope for.
For example, there’s no law that keeps insurance companies from dropping your coverage if they feel there’s too much of a sinkhole risk. Insurers can also deny you coverage if there is a verified sinkhole “near” your home. The law doesn’t define what “near” means in this case.
Fortunately, there is a state-run alternative if you do lose your coverage: Citizen’s Property Insurance. Citizens is a “good news, bad news” scenario.
On one hand, you can get homeowner’s insurance. On the other hand, Citizens can charge anything it wants, and they’ve been raising premiums and deductibles on sinkholes. In many cases, residents of “sinkhole alley” just don’t have anywhere else to turn.
In addition, there are state laws which can make it harder to file a sinkhole claim. That’s because between 2006 and 2010 there were dozens of sinkhole claims. Not all of the very large claim checks were used to actually fix the homes.
Instead, some of the homeowners paid off their mortgages, sold the homes, and made a profit while leaving the damage to become somebody else’s problem. This has led to still more changes in the laws.
For example, if your insurer denies your sinkhole claim then you will need to pay $2500 to get tests that prove there is a sinkhole – and that your home wasn’t simply designed with whatever flaw sparked the claim. This is refundable if you turn out to be right, but it’s a large, out-of-pocket expense.
What does all of this mean for you and your home?
First, be sure that you understand the differences between sinkhole coverage. Comprehensive coverage can help you with minor sinkholes that are damaging your home but which do not necessarily represent a clear and present danger to you and your family.
Catastrophic sinkhole coverage only helps you if you have a severe collapse. It would have to swallow your car or take out one of the rooms in your home before the insurance would respond.
Second, understand that it might be a good idea to consult a sinkhole lawyer before you talk to your insurance company about sinkhole problems in your home.
An attorney can help you get a better outcome then you might get on your own, since these laws are so complex. There are several here in central Florida that only deal in sinkhole problems.
Finally, be safe! Don’t just ignore sinkhole problems because you’re reluctant to deal with the insurance issues.
We are a Tampa Bay area gutter company with a service area that stretches from Ocala to Brandon. We offer free estimates on gutter installations, repair, and fine-mesh gutter guard technology and we are committed to protecting homeowners and their most precious investment: their houses.