Hey, Texplainer: Will previous home damage affect filing claims post-Harvey?

Today’s Texplainer is inspired by a question from Texas Tribune reader Jacqueline McCord. Send us your questions about Texas politics and policy by emailing texplainer@texastribune.org or through texastribune.org/texplainer.

Hey, Texplainer: If you had previous home damage from heavy rains, are you still able to file an insurance claim post-Harvey?

Previous home damage doesn’t affect someone’s ability to file an insurance claim post-Hurricane Harvey. After filing one, however, a claims adjuster will assess a home’s previous damage versus damage caused by the storm.

Individual insurance policies determine the amount and type of aid policyholders are eligible for, which can be tricky to navigate for people in Harvey’s path who may have separate policies for flooding and windstorms in addition to property insurance. After filing a claim, adjustors will likely ask several questions about how previous home damage occurred before settling on a claim amount.

“One doesn’t just get ‘rain damage.’ They had to have had some type of thunderstorm or wind event to have gotten rain damage,” said Matt Stillwell of the Insurance Council of Texas. “So there’s a couple of questions there: How did they get the rain damage, what damage is there, and how did that occur?”

The first thing an adjuster will want to know when assessing a home is how much of the damage is “deferred maintenance,” meaning postponed maintenance on personal property, said FEMA spokeswoman Deanna Frazier.

After inspecting how much damage happened pre-Harvey, an adjuster will decide how much money a claimant is eligible for.

However, previous home damage shouldn’t stop homeowners whose houses were ravaged by the storm from filing insurance claims or applying for federal assistance. The only way a potential issue may arise is if a homeowner filed a previous claim, received payment and then didn’t get the repairs done. But, Stillwell said, “Whether you filed a claim or didn’t, you can file a new claim on any new damage you received after the storm.

“Go ahead and contact your insurance company and say you’ve had damage from Hurricane Harvey. You should not delay at all,” Stillwell added. “Contact your agent or company and tell them you got damage from Harvey and that you need an insurance adjustor out there as soon as possible.”

Stephanie Goodman, the Texas Department of Insurance’s deputy commissioner for public affairs, said that as with any situation in filing an insurance claim, homeowners should pull together as much information as possible — receipts for repairs, photos, videos and any documentation — to detail the condition of their home both before and after Harvey.

“Even if you had a previous claim — whether or not you filed or whether or not you fixed the damage — you may still have a claim for your Harvey damage,” Goodman said. “It’s really a good idea to call your company, call your agent and talk through how it would be handled.”

Federal aid is also an option for homes needing repairs following the storm. As of Thursday morning, 829,825 households have registered for FEMA assistance and the agency has approved more than $ 721 million in grant funds, Frazier said.

Of the homes that have applied for assistance so far, 294,371 have been approved.

“If you’ve had additional damage from Hurricane Harvey to your home, I encourage you to register with FEMA for assistance and see what assistance may be available,” Frazier said. “If you don’t register, you may be leaving money on the table.”

The bottom line: Previous home damage doesn’t impact a homeowner’s ability to file a claim post-Harvey. The only way someone may not be eligible for aid is if they they filed a previous claim and received payment but never got their damages fixed. Either way, both state and federal officials encourage anyone who sustained home damage during Harvey to apply for aid.

Disclosure: The Insurance Council of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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