Report the Claim

Call your insurance agent. If you don’t have one, call your insurance company and ask for the claims department. The company’s phone number should appear in your policy.

It is important to fully understand your rights and responsibilities. If your insurance policy has been lost or destroyed in the disaster, or if you are confused about the policy benefits or exclusions, your agent or company can tell you exactly what coverage you purchased and provide a copy of the policy provisions.

Make Sure Your Insurer Promptly Responds

After you report your loss, the insurance company will assign a company representative to check the damage to your property and determine how much it will pay. If it is necessary to vacate your home, be sure to report the address and phone number where you can be reached.

California law requires insurance companies to acknowledge receipt of your claim within 10 working days. They are also required to provide the appropriate forms to file a claim. If your company does not respond within the required period of time, or if you experience any other unreasonable delays in the handling of your claim, contact the California Department of Insurance.

Information You Will Need to Provide

You will complete a claim report that lists all items destroyed, damaged, or missing. If you don’t possess or can’t locate a complete household inventory, picture the contents of every room in your home and then list and describe all items damaged or destroyed. As accurately as possible, indicate when or where you bought each item, how much you paid for it, and how much it will cost to replace it. Also, include the brand name and model number, if you know them.

Make Temporary Repairs to Prevent Further Damage

To protect your property from further damage, make all necessary temporary repairs, such as boarding up windows and patching holes in walls or roofs, as soon as possible—even before you see the insurance company representative. Also, move your belongings to a protected area, and begin cleaning and drying items damaged by water. However, don’t dispose of any item that may be a complete loss until the company representative has examined it.

Take pictures to show how things looked before you began cleaning and repairing, and keep receipts for all clean-up expenses.

Most homeowners policies cover reasonable costs of emergency clean-up and temporary repairs. Be sure to keep receipts.

When Dealing with Contractors, Withhold as Much Payment as Possible Until Work Is Completed

If the repair work is extensive, the contractor may ask for periodic partial payments as the work progresses—but no reputable contractor should request full payment in advance. The contract should specify that payments will be made as the work is completed. If you have a mortgage on your home, the lending institution may also have specific requirements as to how the insurance funds are disbursed.

What to Do If the Cost of Repairs Exceeds What the Insurer Will Pay

If there is a discrepancy between what your insurance company offers you and the actual cost of repairs, or if the contractor finds hidden damage after the insurance company has set a cost figure, first contact the company representative and try to resolve the difference. If you are still unable to resolve your differences, contact your state’s insurance department.

Where to Live During Repairs

Standard homeowners policies include coverage for costs in excess of your normal living expenses. Ask your company representative if there are any restrictions on where and how long you can stay, and how much you are allowed for hotel rooms. If you stay with a relative or friend, the company may reimburse your host for lodging only if you can show proof of actual payment. Extra expenses, such as higher utility bills incurred by the host, would definitely be considered.

What to Do After a Flood

Standard homeowners policies do not cover flood damage. But, if you have a flood insurance policy, your company or the National Flood Insurance Program will assign an adjuster to your claim.

If your home is not covered for flood damage, check with the federal agencies at the local disaster center to see if you are eligible for federal assistance, including grants or low-interest loans.

What to Do After an Earthquake

If you purchased an earthquake coverage endorsement, your company will assign a representative to evaluate your damage. If you do not have earthquake coverage, check with federal and state emergency agencies to see if you are eligible for financial assistance.

If You Have a Problem with Your Insurer

Contact your agent or company if you believe your insurance company has improperly canceled or non-renewed your policy, or has refused to pay all or part of a valid claim; you have the right to question and complain. If a mistake has been made, it will be corrected if you make an inquiry. A complaint by letter or e-mail is best; retain copies of your correspondence. If you complain by telephone, keep a written record of the date and time of your call, the name of the person you spoke to, and what was said during the call.

If you do not receive a prompt, courteous, and satisfactory response, ask the California Department of Insurance for help resolving your problem. State insurance departments have a lot of leverage with companies and resolve many complaints in favor of consumers.