What is a "flood"?

Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States. Flood effects can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple states.

However, all floods are not alike. Some floods develop slowly, sometimes over a period of days. But flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water that carries rocks, mud, and other debris and can sweep away most things in its path. Overland flooding occurs outside a defined river or stream, such as when a levee is breached, but still can be destructive. Flooding can also occur when a dam breaks, producing effects similar to flash floods.

Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds, or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood. Every state is at risk from this hazard.

Does my home insurance cover floods?

Standard home insurance policies do not cover flood damage.

Depending on where your home is located in Massachusetts, you may be able to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. Your producer or company can help you with application forms for flood coverage. If your home is located in a flood plain, your lender will require flood insurance. Just because your home is not in a designated flood plain, don't assume you will never have flood damage. For more information about federal flood insurance, you can contact your insurer or producer or contact the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at 1-800-638-6620 run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

What should I do following a flood?

The following are guidelines for the period following a flood:
  • Know your homeowners and/or flood insurance policy numbers and bring policy forms with you if you have time to grab them as you leave your houses.
  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community's water supply is safe to drink.
  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.
How can I file a NFIP flood insurance claim?

  • If possible, photograph the outside of the premises, showing any damage or flooding. Also, photograph the inside of the premises, showing the damaged property and the height of the water if your property was flooded.
  • Separate the damaged from the undamaged property and put it in the best possible order for the insurance adjuster's examination. If reasonably possible, protect the property from further damage.
  • When the adjuster visits your property, let him or her know if you need an advance or partial payment of loss. Again, good records can assist your insurance companies and the NFIP in giving you an advance payment. Use your inventory to work with the adjuster in presenting your claim.
What if I have water damage to my home not caused by flooding?

Most home insurance policies generally require you do the following things:

  • If you intend to file a claim for a loss, give immediate notice of a possible claim to your insurance company or licensed producer. If the loss is a theft, also notify the police. If your checkbook or credit cards are missing, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.
  • Protect your property from further loss or damage. If you make temporary repairs, keep a record of what you do and save all receipts for all expenses you incur in undertaking repairs, including, for example, buying plywood and nails to board up broken windows.
  • Give your insurance producer, claims adjuster and/or insurance company a copy of a list of all damaged, destroyed or stolen property (being sure to keep a copy for yourself). In case of theft, be sure to give another copy to the police.
  • Show the damaged property to your insurance producer, claims adjuster and/or insurance company, if asked. Your company may also require a "proof of loss"statement be submitted to them. Do not dispose of any damaged property until your producer, claims adjuster and/or company says you can.
  • If you feel that the amount of money offered by your insurance company to pay for a loss is not fair or there are other insurer practices that seem unfair or deceptive, there are several alternative courses of action that you may want to consider;
    • You can demand an appraisal, per the terms of your homeowners insurance policy, which is a method for resolving the question of the loss amount when the insurer and insured can't agree;
    • You can file a complaint with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance;
    • You can file a claim in small claims court; or
    • You can hire a lawyer to represent your interests in court.
What if I have questions or problems with my claim?

If you are having a problem with your insurance, you should first check with your licensed producer or with the company that sold you the policy. If you do not get satisfactory answers from the agent or company, contact the Consumer Services Section of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance by telephone during normal business hours at 1-617-521-7777 or by the internet at http://www.mass.gov/doi. When completing a complaint form, make sure you have included detailed information about your insurance problem, including the correct name of the insurance company and a complete and accurate description of any company actions to respond to your complaint.

Questions and Answers on the NFIP
Is it true that only residents of high-flood risk zones need to have flood insurance?

Even if you live in an area that is not flood-prone, it's advisable to have flood insurance. Between 20 percent and 25 percent of the NFIP's claims come from outside high-flood-risk areas. The NFIP's Preferred Risk Policy, available for just over $100 per year, is designed for residential properties located in low- to moderate-flood-risk zones.

Does the NFIP cover flooding resulting from the overflow of rivers?

The NFIP defines covered flooding as a general and temporary condition during which the surface of normally dry land is partially or completely inundated. Two properties in the area or two or more acres must be affected. Flooding can be caused by:

  • The overflow of inland or tidal waters, or
  • The unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, such as heavy rainfall, or
  • Mudslides, i.e., mudflows, caused by flooding, that could be described as a river of liquid and flowing mud and
  • The collapse or destabilization of land along the shore of a lake or other body of water, resulting from erosion or the effect of waves, or water currents exceeding normal, cyclical levels.
It should be noted that the NFIP will cover damages from water that backs up through sewers and drains, discharges from a sump pump, or seeps or leaks on or through the covered property, but only if a flood occurs in the area and the flood is the proximate cause of the sewer or drain backup, sump pump discharge or seepage of water.

Can someone buy insurance immediately before or during a flood?

You can purchase flood coverage at any time. There is a 30-day waiting period after you've applied and paid the premium before the policy is effective, with the following exceptions: 1) If the initial purchase of flood insurance is in connection with the making, increasing, extending or renewing of a loan, there is no waiting period. The coverage becomes effective at the time of the loan, provided application and payment of premium is made at or prior to loan closing. 2) If the initial purchase of flood insurance is made during the 13-month period following the effective date of a revised flood map for a community, there is a one-day waiting period. This only applies where the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) is revised to show the building to be in an SFHA when it had not been in an SFHA.

The policy does not cover a "loss in progress,"defined by the NFIP as a loss occurring as of 12:01 a.m. on the first day of the policy term. In addition, you cannot increase the amount of insurance coverage you have during a loss in progress. You are still eligible to purchase flood insurance after your home, apartment or business has been flooded, provided that your community is participating in the NFIP.

Is flood insurance only available for homeowners?

Flood insurance is available to protect homes, condominiums, apartments and nonresidential buildings, including commercial structures. A maximum of $250,000 of building coverage is available for single-family residential buildings; $250,000 per unit for residential condominiums. The limit for contents coverage on all residential buildings is $100,000, which is also available to renters.BR>
Commercial structures can be insured to a limit of $500,000 for the building and $500,000 for the contents.

Does the NFIP offer any type of basement coverage?

Yes it does. The NFIP defines a basement as any area of a building with a floor that is below ground level on all sides. While flood insurance does not cover basement improvements, such as finished walls, floors or ceilings, or personal belongings that may be kept in a basement, such as furniture and other contents, it does cover structural elements, essential equipment and other basic items normally located in a basement. Many of these items are covered under building coverage, and some are covered under contents coverage. The NFIP encourages people to purchase both building and contents coverage for the broadest protection.

The following items are covered under building coverage, as long as they are connected to a power source and installed in their functioning location:

  • Sump pumps
  • Well water tanks and pumps, cisterns and the water in them
  • Oil tanks and the oil in them, natural gas tanks and the gas in them
  • Pumps and/or tanks used in conjunction with solar energy
  • Furnaces, hot water heater, air conditioners and heat pumps
  • Electrical junction and circuit breaker boxes and required utility connections
  • Foundation elements
  • Stairways, staircases, elevators and dumbwaiters
  • Unpainted drywalls and ceilings, including fiberglass insulation
  • Cleanup
The following items are covered under contents coverage:
  • Clothes washers
  • Clothes dryers
  • Food freezers and the food in them