Many homeowners install extensive security systems, deadbolts, motion activated lights and other security features to protect their home from vandalism and theft. Unfortunately, the most diligent home security features cannot prevent a rock from being thrown through a window or spray paint from defacing the external walls of your residence. While your homeowners’ insurance will likely cover some or all of a claim for theft of personal property in your home or vandalism to your home, there are special considerations and issues that you need to know if you file this type of homeowners’ insurance claim.
Temporarily Unoccupied House vs. Vacant House
Homeowners’ insurance policies typically distinguish a house that is unoccupied for a period of time from one that is actually vacant. If you go on a one month vacation to Europe or accept a temporary job transfer overseas, you might wonder whether damage to your home from vandalism is covered while you are away. If the house remains furnished so it appears that someone lives in the home, this type of vandalism claim will typically qualify for coverage. However, the situation is different if the house is empty because the owner is getting ready to sell the home. If the home is unfurnished because it is being sold or for any other reason, vandalism typically will not be covered past 60 days under policies in many states.
The rationale for this distinction between homes that are temporarily unoccupied and vacant houses is that premiums are based on the fact that someone is living in the home. When a house is obviously vacant, it creates a more attractive target to vandals because of the reduced risk of be being caught. Anyone who has driven through a neighborhood with a number of homes that have been sitting vacant will notice the increased prevalence of broken out windows and graffiti. This distinction is critically important because vandalism will be covered on the 61st day if you are on a cruise but not if your home is sitting empty while on the real estate market.
Steps to Take after Your Home is Burglarized
Many acts of vandalism are part and parcel of a burglary in which personal property is stolen from you home. If your home is vandalized or you are the victim of burglars, you need to file a police report. This report will be extremely important when your insurance company investigates your claim. The insurance company will rely on the police report to document that the incident occurred and to support subrogation claims it may pursue. The itemization you provide regarding stolen property needs to be as accurate as possible. If you forget to include items when you initially make the report or later discover other items are stolen, you should make a supplemental police report and inform your insurance company of the follow-up report.
Your homeowners’ insurance company will rely heavily on the documentation you provide to verify the value and ownership of property listed in your claim. If you have a video inventory of all furnishings in your home, this can be particularly useful when substantiating your loss. Other documents that can help verify your claim include receipts, appraisals, pictures and credit card statements. The best practice is to submit as much documentation supporting value and ownership of your stolen property as possible.
Replacement Value vs. Appraisal Value
Sometimes policyholders will need to get special insurance that itemizes personal property that has significant value, such as jewelry. When these items are specified on the schedule that is part of your policy, you may need to get the item appraised. While most policyholders presume that they will receive the appraisal value for these items, insurance companies often use their superior purchasing power to obtain a lower replacement estimate. In these situations, the insurance company will attempt to pay the discounted replacement value rather than the appraisal value. This approach is fundamentally unfair because you premiums were based on the higher appraisal value of the item. One way to counter this strategy is to ask the insurance company who they use to appraise such items, so you can use the same appraiser prior to the underwriting of your policy.
Homeowner insurance claims for theft and vandalism are among the most common forms of homeowners’ insurance claims. However, they can also be complicated, so we are happy to guide you through the process. I am an experienced Florida property damage insurance claims attorney who handles disputed claims in Miami and throughout Florida. The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations. No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees. Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.