On the House: A reader's warning: Beware flood insurance

Posted: November 20, 2011

Steve Bosch of Elkins Park wanted to make sure that he wasn't just engaging in a gripe session when he contacted me. What he hoped to do was impart a warning to readers who might be in the market for flood insurance.

Although it appears to be a no-brainer for, say, people who live in low-lying areas near the Schuylkill or the Delaware, Bosch cautioned that flood insurance was not something to be taken lightly.

He has lived in his house since 1998 and survived 12 floods, he said, starting with Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and ending with Hurricane Irene.

Fortunately, he's also a home-repair craftsman and auto mechanic, "having replaced my finished basement from floor to ceiling three times, and restored flooded trucks."

Here's some of what he (and his neighbors) want me to pass on to you:

The government keeps changing the rules. For example, redefining basement.

"I have a two-car garage below ground that leads into the finished part of the basement and my shop and utility room. That is called a 'walkout' basement because you can walk out of the basement through the garage."

After paying eight claims for contents and building damage to his basement, Bosch said, the government determined that "I do not, in fact, have a basement. That was accomplished by renaming my walkout basement a 'dugout' basement."

Nowhere in the policy or in any regulations does the term dugout appear, he said, but that didn't deter denial of subsequent claims. Only after years of fighting did the government finally agree that Bosch did, in fact, have a covered basement and paid the claims.

The day before Bosch contacted me, however, "a flood adjuster - private subcontractors who are paid a percentage of what I am paid - arrived at my house and immediately announced that I do 'not have a basement.' "

No damage outside the house is covered by flood insurance. "When my yard drain was crushed by the weight of the floodwater and had to be replaced, I had to pay $9,000 out of my pocket to have the old drain dug up and a new drain installed," Bosch said.

Seeing is believing. Apparently, cracks in the floor caused by hydrostatic pressure must be observed while they are happening.

"The first engineer to inspect the floor," Bosch said, "concluded that the cracks were caused by hydrostatic water pressure, but since he wasn't here the day of the flood, he could not state that these cracks were caused by that flood."

After a separate instance of hydrostatic water pressure caused additional cracking, he said, another engineer was sent out and concluded that there was no evidence that mud underneath the slab had been washed away. Of course, there was no evidence that it hadn't been washed away, either.

"More important, what does the existence or nonexistence of mud under the house prove?" Bosch asked.

Getting accurate claim information is nearly impossible. As Bosch was typing his e-mail to me, he said, he had been on the phone five times in two hours "trying to find someone who can make the determination that my basement is, in fact, covered."

"I have been transferred to three departments because no one in any of those departments knew what to do, and disconnected twice because all calls on hold are automatically disconnected after a certain time because of the volume of calls," he said.

"Calls go to a call center, where no help can be provided," Bosch said, "and callers are transferred to another department, where you are put on hold, much like in Dante's Inferno, until the clock runs out, and you are disconnected."

If others want to share their experiences, just e-mail me.

On the House:

Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens' home improvement column appears Fridays in Home & Design. See instructional videos at Al's Place. Go to philly.com/yourplace

Contact columnist Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or @alheavens at Twitter.

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