FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After torrential rains hit South Florida, particularly in Broward County, many residents are dealing with flooded cars, boats and homes.
And while the storm wasn’t a hurricane, many will be filing insurance claims for their soaked property. Fort Lauderdale was drenched with a record 25.91 inches of rain Wednesday – an entire month of rain in a single day.
The first thing to do if your home flooded?
“A lot of people’s first instinct is to start cleaning up right away,” said Omar Ochoa, an attorney whose specialties include storm insurance. “They come back and they see soggy furniture, clothes, just disarray in general, caused by the flood. But before the person starts cleaning up, they really should document the scene, as they’re seeing it – take pictures, take videos, really try to get the entire scope of the damage before they start cleaning up any items.
“That’ll go a long way to show what damage was actually caused by the flood when you submit your claim to the insurance company,” he added.
You also need to “protect the property,” which means drying your home as quickly as possible and making any necessary repairs, such as replacing broken windows or covering a damaged roof with a tarp, said Vince Perri, founder of Elite Resolutions, a public adjuster firm that serves Florida and Texas. And of course, notify your insurance company as soon as possible.
“Because the longer you delay, the further you wait, the worse it looks on you,” said Perri. “Because the first question they’re going to ask is, ‘Well, why didn’t you let us know? What were you doing from here until then?”
More FAQs about insurance coverage and storms
I don’t have flood insurance. Will my home insurance cover any damage?
Flood insurance, like the name suggests, covers damages due to floods and flooding. And while not everyone is required to get flood insurance in Florida – mandates are generally for those who live in designated flood zones – insurance experts say it’s a good idea to buy flood insurance even if you don’t live in a flood zone, given the flooding South Florida has had in recent years.
Jennifer Jurado, Broward’s chief resilience officer, said not enough people in Broward County have flood insurance. As of 2017, only around 200,000 people had policies with the National Flood Insurance Program, the biggest provider in the nation. About 1.9 million people live in Broward.
“It’s really something we should all have in Florida and especially in Southeast Florida,” she said.
Homeowners insurance typically covers damages from fire, theft, wind and falling trees. It provides some coverage for water damage, but usually not from rising water. If a storm causes a leak in your roof, for example, your homeowner’s insurance will likely cover it, according to Ochoa and Perri. Pipe bursts and overflowing toilets are usually covered too.
But if water seeps in through the bottom of the door and floods your living room? That’s a flood insurance claim.
It’s also worth noting that the Florida Legislature passed an insurance bill late last year that will make flood insurance mandatory for any homeowners with hurricane wind policies from Citizens Insurance. On July 1, current Citizens policyholders who live in designated flood zones will be required to have flood insurance – a switch that will affect about 295,000 policies, according to Citizens.
Starting Jan. 1, 2024, anyone with a Citizens home insurance policy for coverage over $600,000 will be required to have flood insurance. That’s about 15,000 policies, according to Citizens. The next year, 2025, the policy applies to all Citizens’-insured homes with coverage over $500,000 – about 27,000 more policies.
TIPS: Check your homeowner insurance policy to see what it covers. And make sure your coverage includes “contents insurance,” also known as personal property coverage. This type of coverage helps pay to replace or repair your personal belongings, like laptops, clothing and furniture if they’re waterlogged.
Keep receipts. “Most homeowners insurance policies will cover some additional living expenses for “loss of use” of a property, meaning it’s uninhabitable until it’s repaired or completely rebuilt. This could include the cost of a hotel, or even renting an apartment if repairs take a while.
Insurance may also cover things like the cost of dining out because you don’t have a home kitchen, insurance experts say. Use one credit card, not cash, to keep track of all your receipts.
Do most insurance policies cover mold damage?
Most policies don’t cover mold damage, but they do cover “mitigation activities” such as purchasing fans to dry out a room and cutting out drywall to prevent mold from spreading, according to Ochoa. Check your policy for details.
Should I hire a public adjuster?
Whether you hire a public adjuster or just rely on the insurance company’s adjuster is up to you. If you hire a public adjuster, they can help guide you through the claim process, with the goal of getting you the best payout, said Perri.
However, keep in mind that you don’t need to hire an adjuster for every claim. Some adjusters might not take a case if the claim is too small. Also public adjusters charge from 5% to 20% of the total settlement or they may charge a flat or hourly rate, according to NerdWallet.
TIP: If you need help, only public adjusters and lawyers are authorized, under Florida law, to negotiate a claim with your insurance company. To verify whether you’re working with a licensed adjuster, go to beclaimsmart.com.
What to do if your car has water damage?
AAA and State Farm, which has already received about 1,000 claims relating to this week’s heavy rainfalls and flooding in South Florida, have some tips on what to do if your car got submerged:
Take photos of the water damage. However, if the flood waters reach above the door’s sill, only take photos from the exterior of the car. You don’t want water to get inside the car and cause more damage. Once the water recedes, you can open the car doors to air out the vehicle and take interior photos.
Don’t try to turn on the car. This could cause more damage if there is water in the engine. Call a towing service and wait for the vehicle to be inspected by a qualified mechanic to make sure it’s safe to turn on the car. (Getting a tow truck, however, may take a while, as hundreds of people were stranded in their cars in Fort Lauderdale due to the flooding.)
Check your auto insurance policy to see if it covers flood damage. Then contact your insurance company to file a claim. If your current auto insurance doesn’t cover flood damage, consider changing policies for future incidents. Comprehensive coverage, for example, usually covers flood damage to vehicles.
My boat got damaged. What should I do?
Just like with auto and home insurance, if your boat has insurance, you’ll want to take photos and videos of the damage and file a claim immediately. You’ll also want to bail out any standing water in the boat, and clean and dry the boat to reduce the risk of mildew. Cover damaged areas with a tarp and if your boat engines got wet, “pickle” them.
“This process involves flushing them with fresh water and then filling them back up with kerosene or diesel fuel. Pickling your engine can significantly increase the chance of saving it,” according to Maritime Insurance International. “Engines can be expensive to replace and difficult to move. So if you can save yours by pickling it, this can prevent major hassles.
“Depending on your coverage levels, taking this step could free up funds to allow other damaged areas of your boat to be included in your boat insurance claim.”
Is it too late to get FEMA, private flood insurance? What’s the difference?
If you get flood insurance now, it won’t cover any damages caused by the recent deluge, according to Ochoa. However, if you live in an area that’s prone to flooding, it might be a good idea to buy flood insurance for future storms and hurricanes.
For years, people could only purchase flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s National Flood Insurance Program. Now, you can also purchase flood insurance directly from private insurance companies.
What’s better? It depends on what you need. Private policies, for example, are often cheaper and sometimes offer more coverage, especially if your property is an area with a lower flood risk, according to an article that had appeared in Money magazine.
However, “private policies are less dependable than federal policies. Where the NFIP guarantees renewal of its policies, a private insurer may elect not to renew a policy or even to cancel it,” reads the 2021 Money article. “And since private flood policies are new products, there’s uncertainty even by insurance standards, about what policies might cost in future and which companies may still be writing them.”
The solution? Shop around and compare insurance policies.
Broward and Fort Lauderdale are under a state of emergency. Can I apply for FEMA aid?
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Broward County. The county and the city of Fort Lauderdale have also issued their own state of emergencies. All of this makes it easier for the state and local governments to respond and assist in the flooded areas.
DeSantis’ declaration, for example, activated the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which is tasked with coordinating the state’s response to disasters like hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, unless a federal state of emergency is issued, FEMA won’t be able to provide disaster relief assistance like it does during hurricanes. People who have flood insurance through the federal program can still submit claims.
If you need additional assistance, here are some resources:
- The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has activated the private sector hotline at 850-815-4925 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for businesses to inquire about response and recovery resources available to them. You can also email ESF18@em.myflorida.com.
- The American Red Cross has a hotline available around the clock. If you were displaced and need assistance, call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
- Visit PrepareFL.com for recovery resources and insurance assistance.
- You also have to be wary of fraud when hiring someone to repair your home. If you think you’re a victim of fraud, call the Insurance Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or visit FraudFreeFlorida.com.
In addition, Florida Realtors® Disaster Relief Fund assists Realtors and their employees, as well as local associations and staff. Visit Florida Realtors website for information on how to apply for aid.
© 2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Miami Herald Staff Writer Alex Harris contributed to this report.