When You Can’t Come Home: What Does "Loss of Use" Coverage Actually Cover?
Your homeowner’s insurance policy will pay to repair damage to your home caused by a fire, windstorm or other covered cause of loss. But when you and your family incur expenses for moving out while repairs are made, who picks up the tab?
An often-overlooked but essential function of your homeowner’s policy is “additional living expenses” (also called “loss of use” or “Part D”) coverage. Additional living expenses coverage will pay the necessary increase in living expenses required to maintain your family’s current standard of living while the house is being repaired. Examples of expenses typically covered include the cost of hotel, food bills in excess of normal grocery/restaurant bills, cooking supplies and the cost of moving property into storage.
The good news is that payment for these expenses usually does not stop if the policy expires. Rather, they will continue to pay until the limit is used up, the home is repaired to a habitable state, or you permanently relocate.
The bad news is that many homeowners erroneously believe that the policy covers 100 percent of additional living expenses until the home is habitable. Realistically, very few policies do this. In most cases, home insurance companies place a limit or cap on loss-of-use payments. For example, many homeowner policies will only offer loss-of-use coverage as a percentage of the limit of insurance carried on the dwelling; 20 percent is common. Others may specify a flat dollar amount.
Usually, a covered loss must occur for any insurance dollars to be paid for additional living expenses. The one exception is if your home is not accessible due to civil authority or government mandate triggered by nearby damage. For example, in 2009, wildfires in California triggered mandatory evacuations that prevented tens of thousands of homeowners from going home. If homes in close proximity to yours are burning, there’s a chance the government will close roads and/or prevent you from entering your property even though it has not yet suffered a direct loss. In this situation, additional living expense payments are often limited to two weeks.
Homeowners who receive additional income by renting a portion of their home should also pay close attention to the Part D limit. This limit also applies to replacing lost rental income while the damaged house is being repaired.
Here’s the important question: How do you know if your policy’s Part D limit is sufficient? The trouble is that important factors are variable. For example, how do you know how long you will be out of your house? Building codes and permits cause rebuilding efforts to proceed slowly in many parts of the country. Calling a local building contractor to gain some idea is a good start but there is no exact prediction.
Further, how do you know what expenses you will incur? According to Hotels.com’s 2009 hotel price index, the average hotel room in the U.S. costs $115 per night! Add this and other expenses to a lengthy, unpredictable repair schedule and the possibility of eclipsing your Part D policy limit before your home is habitable could become a serious problem.
The last thing you want to hear is that your loss-of-use coverage has run out before you can go home. Fortunately, your Trusted Choice® insurance professional understands this exposure and can help you weigh your options, including those that may increase your loss-of-use coverage limit.