Temporary Housing After Hurricanes
Updated, Oct. 12, 2017:
As noted in the article below, homeowners insurance typically does not cover flood damage. Instead, flood damage must be covered by a separate policy purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA provides this list of companies that sell and service NFIP flood insurance policies.
Here’s the second bit of bad news: Flood insurance does not cover living expenses, including temporary housing, according to the NFIP’s Summary of Coverage.
Two FEMA programs might help if a major disaster is declared. Transitional Sheltering Assistance will pay for a hotel room “for a limited period of time.” Another program will provide two months of expedited rental assistance for temporary housing. To sign up to see if you qualify for housing assistance, register at DisasterAssistance.gov.
One more note regarding insurance: Wind damage from a hurricane may be a different story. Wind damage is typically covered by homeowners insurance, according to Allstate. But (and this is important) “some policies partially or completely exclude wind-related damage,” Allstate says. So read your insurance policy carefully and contact your agent if you have questions.
Getting Temporary Housing After a Disaster
Originally published July 19, 2017:
It’s unfortunate but true: Many of us will suffer a house fire or other disaster that will force us to find temporary housing until we can safely return home. But where can you turn for temporary housing after a fire or other emergency?
Three options may be available, depending on the severity of the disaster:
- Government agencies
- Disaster relief organizations
- Insurance companies and short-term housing
We’ll consider these options below.
Help From Government Agencies After a Disaster
Depending on the size of the fire or disaster, several government agencies may get involved in relief. If your area experiences a major flood, superstorm, massive wildfire, or earthquake, the Federal Emergency Management Agency likely will get involved. Your state emergency management agency also will jump into action. Last, your state governor may call in the National Guard.
However, it may be best not to depend on government agencies for shelter after a disaster, at least not long term. That’s because any housing that government agencies offer will most likely be group shelters operated on a temporary basis. The government is best at responding to disasters by providing money after the fact.
Non-Governmental Disaster Relief Organizations
A large enough disaster in your area could bring in local, regional, or national disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross. These will help with food, water, shelter, and other necessities.
Again, however, any housing typically will be a group temporary shelter meant to provide security and safety until more permanent housing can be found. The Red Cross does promise to help you find “transitional housing” if your home is not ready when you leave the shelter.
The Red Cross also will help individual families who have experienced a smaller-scale disaster such as a house fire. But relief services are limited and may only include food, clothing, clean-up supplies, and personal hygiene kits. Finding temporary housing may still be up to you.
Will Insurance Cover Temporary Housing?
So where do you turn for longer-term temporary housing after a fire or other disaster? If you are a homeowner or a renter with good insurance, chances are that temporary housing is covered by your insurance policy. Exceptions may be in cases of flooding and earthquakes.
Such temporary housing can be reimbursed under “loss of use” coverage or “additional living expenses.” This coverage should be available if damage covered under your insurance policy has made your home uninhabitable, or if a law enforcement or government agency has ordered your home evacuated due to a covered event. You may even be able to get an advance payment to get you started.
Just note three important aspects of loss of use coverage:
– Loss of use reimburses you only for living expenses above what you would normally have living in your own home. So you might not be reimbursed for the full rent if expenses such as home maintenance are deducted. However, loss of use can include expenses such as laundry, storage and even some meals.
– Loss of use coverage might limit how long and how much your insurance company will reimburse your additional living expenses.
– Loss of use coverage provides a rental similar to the house you were living in. So don’t expect to temporarily trade your one-bedroom condo for a three-bedroom penthouse.
Finding Shelter in Corporate Housing
Assuming your additional living expenses are covered, you can focus on what type of temporary housing will suit your family. In many cases, corporate housing may be your best bet. This is especially true if you expect to be out of your house for months instead of weeks. Insurance companies may not want you staying in a hotel for more than 30 days.
For longer stays, corporate housing combines many of the amenities of a hotel with the comforts of staying in a home, including a full kitchen and a washer and dryer. Just know that once you’re settled into a temporary home with a kitchen, your insurance company may no longer reimburse restaurant meals.
How to Prepare for a Temporary Stay
First, of course, read your insurance policy and talk with your insurance agent to make sure your policy includes adequate “loss of use” coverage. Insurer Geico specifically suggests looking at your policy for terms such as “loss of use,” “additional living expenses,” “fair rental value” and “civil authority prohibits use.”
Legal experts also recommend you have a few documents on hand to speed up the process of securing temporary housing:
- Credit report
- Proof of employment
- Proof of income if you’re self-employed
- Proof of loss of use coverage from your insurer
If you are displaced and have to go into temporary housing, save your receipts if you hope to get reimbursed by your insurance company. And make sure your insurance company approves any big-ticket expenses beforehand.
With the help of agencies, insurance companies, and temporary housing, you can get through a disaster and get back into your home.