Filing Insurance Claims

Homeowner’s insurance usually covers losses caused by wind, storm, or broken water pipes, but not surface flooding. Another way to think about this is that flood insurance covers rising waters, while standard homeowner’s insurance covers roof leaks, window leaks, etc. If you have insurance, contact your insurance adjuster immediately and follow these steps:

  • Take photos or videotape the damage to both the inside and outside of the building and the contents. Refer to the info graph in the ‘Muck Out Process’ post for what photos to take.
  • Separate your damaged and undamaged belongings and store them for the adjuster to examine.
  • Find receipts, canceled checks, or proofs of purchase for high cost items such as major appliances, if possible. The adjuster will need the manufacturer’s name; serial and model numbers; price; location and date of purchase; and a description of the items.
  • What is typically most helpful to the adjuster is a spreadsheet of lost or damaged items that details: item description, age, original cost (if you have receipts), and a link to a comparable item (on Amazon or similar).
  • Begin cleanup and drying as soon as possible, read posts first.
  • Clean the house so the adjuster can see the damage.
  • Keep damaged materials for proof of loss.
  • Leave a phone number where you can be reached when the adjuster arrives.
  • The adjuster will assess damages to the house. The owner should sign a proof of loss statement.
  • Additional damage can be added when found.
  • If you have questions about what is covered and what isn’t, contact your insurance company for a copy of your policy. NFIP info here.

If your mortgage holder is listed on your insurance policy, you cannot cash your insurance claim check without their approval. Before you decide on repairing and floodproofing, make sure that your loan will not be affected. The mortgage holder may be able to provide financial help, such as deferring interest payments for a month or two.

How to file a flood insurance claim infographic (in multiple languages)

If your claim is denied

If you receive a denial for all OR part of your flood insurance claim, you have several options. The first thing you can do is talk to your insurance company to see if they have overlooked something or made a mistake.

Beyond that, you can file an appeal with FEMA at no cost within 60 days of the denial. Details on what to include and where to send your appeal are here. You may also file a lawsuit or get an appraisal (details also at link).

Getting FEMA Assistance

Everyone with flood damage should apply for FEMA assistance, even if you have flood insurance. Your first step is to contact FEMA, as their assistance comes in the form of grants, which do not need to be paid back. Register online at DisasterAssistance.gov, call 1‐800‐621‐FEMA (3362), or visit a Disaster Recovery Center in your area (locator here).

What can FEMA help with?

FEMA can help with temporary housing, lodging expenses reimbursement, repairs to your primary home (not a small business or secondary home), and replacement and construction of housing that isn’t covered by insurance. FEMA also offers disaster assistance for some of your other disaster-caused expenses including, medical and dental, child care, funeral and burial, essential household items, moving and storage, vehicle, and some clean-up items.

The application process should take about 20 minutes. Have ready your SSN, your gross household income, contact information, insurance information, and direct deposit/bank information. Just like with insurance, documenting and photographing damage will be helpful in this process.

If you are approved for Transitional Shelter Assistance, you can find participating hotels here. If you must stay at a non-participating hotel, save your receipts to apply for reimbursement.

Who is eligible?

You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for long-term FEMA assistance. Legal permanent residents, those who have been granted asylum, refugees, those who have been granted humanitarian parole for 1 year, those whose deportation has been withheld because of their status as a political refugee, Cuban or Haitian immigrants under the REAA, and survivors of domestic violence who have a pending petition for relief are ALL eligible for FEMA assistance. Only one person in your household needs to qualify, so mixed status households should apply.

After you apply

You might also receive an application for an SBA loan (see section below). This won’t disqualify you from receiving FEMA assistance. An inspector will contact you to schedule a visit. The visit will be about 30-40 minutes and you must be present. Be ready to show your ID, proof of occupancy (utility bill or lease), and proof of ownership (deed, title, mortgage payment book, tax receipts).

Small businesses should apply directly for SBA disaster loans.

During the inspector’s visit

The inspector will wear a FEMA ID badge and ask to verify your identity, ownership, and occupancy. They will confirm your disaster registration number, review damages to structure and personal property, and ask you to sign documentation.

Inspectors WILL NOT determine eligibility on the spot, cost money, ask for credit card information, or take the place of an insurance inspection. If an “inspector” does or promises any of these things or is not wearing an official FEMA ID badge, report them as fraudulent to FEMA: 1-866-720-5721.

After the visit, you will receive a decision letter. If approved for aid, funds will be sent as a check or EFT and you will receive a follow-up letter detailing how funds can be used.

If you are denied or your grant isn’t enough

This might happen because:

  • You might not have gotten your insurance settlement;
  • You may not have given FEMA all the information they need;
  • You haven’t given them proof of ownership or residence;
  • You may not have returned the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan application;
  • You may not have provided records that showed the damaged property was the primary residence at the time of the disaster;
  • You may not have signed essential documents.

Always respond to a denial or inadequate assistance by appealing the decision. FEMA treats your initial letter as the start of a conversation, not the final word. Read your letter carefully. FEMA may only need you to provide additional information. Your appeal should include new or missing information, documents and damage repair estimates that support the appeal request. You have 60 days to get everything together and appeal your decision.

It is important to date the appeal letter and mail it to the following address:

FEMA – Appeals Officer
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055

Appeals may also be faxed to: 1-800-827-8112.

You can also call the helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 or visit a Disaster Recovery Center, where you can talk with someone about your particular situation. Either way, you can get more information about what to do next and give them information that might change their determination about your status.

If you are still denied or not provided with adequate assistance, you can also look into the Other Needs Assistance grant for additional funding, a disaster loan, and help from volunteer agencies.

Disaster Loans

SBA offers low-interest, long-term disaster loans to small businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners, and renters to repair or replace uninsured/underinsured disaster damaged property.

Loan amounts and terms are set by SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition.

SBA will be alongside FEMA at Disaster and Business Recovery Centers, providing assistance to disaster survivors. At the centers, disaster survivors will be able to apply in person, and get counseling on the next steps toward recovery.

You can also apply online or by mail. Details are here. Homeowners can borrow up to $200,000 to repair their residence and $40,000 to repair/replace personal property. Small businesses and organizations can borrow up to $2 million. Disaster loans are a better option than credit cards to pay for anything that isn’t covered by insurance or FEMA.

Income Tax Deductions

You might qualify to file an amended tax return for the past year and get a partial refund for your uninsured casualty losses. Look to the Internal Revenue Service for Publication 547, Non-Business Disasters, Casualties, and Theft to get more information.

You can also file for the Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief Program, and file your Publication 547 form with the IRS. Both of these programs allow for residents in a disaster area to write off their losses via taxes, thus potentially getting an unexpected refund, something that could go a long way in recovery.

Borrowing from a Retirement Fund

The IRS has announced that Harvey survivors can borrow from retirement funds to cover disaster recovery without going through some of the usual hoops. Spousal consent rules still apply, and so do taxes and likely, a 10% penalty. Disaster loans are typically a better option, but usually have to be repaid within 5 years.

Foreclosure Relief

HUD is granting a 90 day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearance on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages. They are also offering longer-term recovery assistance to survivors and impacted communities. You can also call 1-800-569-4287 for more information.

Next Step: Recovering Important Documents