Homeowners’ Basic Rights and Responsibilities After a Wildfire

ben-kuo-351000-copy-300x201The U.S. has experienced significant damage due to wildfires this year. Sonoma County, California, is the latest area to be devastated. As of the morning of Oct. 18, the wildfires that began in the region on Oct. 8 had covered hundreds of thousands of acres. At the time, the Tubbs Fire was 91% contained. The Pocket Fire was 63% contained, and the Nuns Fire that is in both Sonoma and Napa counties was 80% contained. Full containment was expected by Friday Oct. 20. At this point, 42 people have been killed, approximately 22,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, and thousands of homes have been significant damaged or destroyed.

If you were affected by a California wildfire, you probably have a lot of questions. Other than working with your insurer, what else should you do? There are a few rights and responsibilities you should keep in mind during this time. If you are ever unsure of what to do next or simply need help, do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced insurance lawyer at Brod Law Firm.

Pay Your Mortgage

A tough realization after your home has been destroyed in a fire or other natural disaster is that you have to keep paying the bank. Your mortgage covers the entire property, not just the house. You must keep making timely mortgage payments in order to avoid defaulting on the property. If you fall behind in payments, the bank could foreclose on the property.  

Most homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover mortgage payments after a disaster. In theory, insurance payments for additional living expense during a natural disaster could help. However, you will need this money for relocation assistance, temporary housing, food, clothing, and other personal items.  

Pay Property Taxes

Despite a sudden and drastic change in your property, you still owe taxes – another cost your insurance does not cover. You should continue paying your property taxes as you normally would. However, work with your county to have your property reevaluated and your tax liability adjusted based on the new, diminished value of your property.

Do Not Accept the First Settlement Offer

When you are facing a disaster, an insurer’s offer to cut a check right away seems like a blessing. However, it rarely is the amount you truly need to rebuild your home, live somewhere else during this process, and replace your belongings. An insurer will make a quick settlement offer in order to hedge its bets and ultimately pay less. Instead, if you do not accept the first offer and fight for more, you are likely to get it.

However, if you did accept an initial check, do not panic. You have time to work your insurer and if necessary, dispute your settlement.

Get Help With the Insurance Process

The thought of initially turning down a large check from an insurer after losing everything may seem horrifying. You know you need the money. The truth is, you will need more, and you have the right to fight for the maximum payout possible under your policy.

Obtaining the largest settlement available may require getting extra help with the insurance claims process. You should look into hiring a public adjuster or an experienced insurance attorney. A public adjuster is an independent professional who handles insurance claims and advocates on your, the policyholder’s, behalf. When you work with your insurer’s adjuster, that person is looking out for the business’s best interests. Hiring a public adjuster gives you someone who looks out for yours.

Attorney Greg Brod Can Help

Hiring a lawyer may seem extreme, however it is not for the purposes of being antagonistic or filing a lawsuit. An attorney like Greg Brod who has extensive experience with insurance companies will understand the red tape, advocate on your behalf, and ensure you are treated fairly under both your policy and the law. His goal will be to help you obtain the settlement you need to move forward after a devastating fire.

To learn more about what to do after losing your home in a wildfire, call Brod Law Firm today at (800) 427-7020.

(image courtesy of Ben Kuo)