Homeowners responsible for property damages if sinkholes occur
By RAY REYES | The Tampa Tribune
Published: January 12, 2010
Residents with sinkholes on their property should be aware of several key factors as they seek to recoup their losses, state officials said.
Because of Florida’s geology, more sinkholes form here than in any other state, so a homeowner’s insurance policy covering sinkhole damage is recommended.
And if a sinkhole appears on private property—even if the formation was triggered by outside factors such as drought, new construction, heavy rain or heavy ground-water pumping—the property owner is responsible for the damages and repair, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
State law does not require insurance companies to include sinkhole coverage on new homeowners’ insurance policies, according to the state Department of Financial Services. Insurance companies are required to inform clients that sinkhole coverage is extra, at an additional premium.
Homeowners filing a claim should expect their insurance company to inspect the property to determine if a sinkhole is to blame for the damage, state financial services spokeswoman Nina Banister said.
Insurance companies will likely order a geological report. If tests confirm that a sinkhole caused the damage, insurance policies should pay for the testing and repairs.
If the insurance company denies a claim, the property owner can dispute it and request a neutral evaluation through the department of financial services, Banister said. The insurance company is required to pay all costs associated with the neutral evaluation program, she said.
Officials give these additional tips and reminders:
•Hire a home inspector to find signs of potential sinkhole activity.
•Insurance companies vary on their individual requirements and homeowners should shop around for the best insurance policy. There is no ready reference on sinkhole prediction or risk assessment, which has hampered legislation or an industry standard on this issue.
•If you’re buying a new home, remember that most real estate seller’s disclosure forms include a sinkhole disclosure statement. Sometimes it is overlooked. If it is in question, be sure to ask.
•In theory, sinkholes can form anywhere in Florida. The bedrock underlying the state is honeycombed with cavities of varying size, most of which will not collapse in our lifetimes.
For information, call the Department of Financial Services consumer help line at 1-877-693-5236 or visit the Web site at www.myfloridacfo.com.