Policyholder Question – Can I Claim Loss of Use for an Apartment Rental Claim?
The following is an insurance claim question we answered for a policyholder through the United Policyholders Ask an Expert Forum.
Q. I live in St Thomas. My house suffered substantial damage from Irma and Maria. It is a two level house with a 3rd level apartment. The upper level is missing the roof and the bottom level apartment is pulling away from the main structure. I am currently living on the 2nd level. When I bought the house in January I had planned on returning the house to the previous layout of 3 separate distinct living spaces to help with the mortgage and homeowners insurance payments. The 2nd level had already been zoned as a separate living area but was added to the main house by the previous owners. I removed the spiral staircase between the 1st and 2nd level and had contractors scheduled to come back to repair the opening. Earlier this year my parents decided they were going to move here. My father has Alzheimer disease and responds well to me. I was going to help my Mom care for him. My parents sold their house in Colorado, bought plane tickets and hired movers. They were to arrive on island October 1st. We decided ahead of time they would be paying rent and we would have a written agreement drawn up. As a result of the storm I was forced to move to the 2nd level. Had the house survived intact this would not have been a safe place for them. I would have still rented out the 2nd level to someone else. My insurance agent said I could not claim a loss of use for the vacant apartments because I had no lease already in place for them. Is this correct?
A. Thanks for your question I am sure you are not the only one with this situation. So your question is about the information your agent gave you and if it is correct. You like most people who have a loss tend to have a personal relationship with agents and sometimes brokers. Thus these folks are usually the first place a policyholder turns to when faced with a loss. But in my experience they are not always the most knowledgeable about the claim process and what an insurance policy will or not cover. The answer to your question may be found in the language of your policy. Property insurance policies may address your issue differently. As I have not read your policy I do not know if it says you must have a signed written lease to get coverage. Your policy may say that all that is required is that a property is on the market and is rentable (in some type of similar wording) which may be enough to qualify for coverage. Then there is the issue of an oral contract or commitment that says the parties were going to enter into a landlord tenant agreement. I have seen people in the past use an affidavit to confirm a pre-loss intent. I would suggest you consult an attorney before signing an affidavit as it is a legal sworn document. Lastly, I suggest you tell your agent to report the claim to your insurance company as they need to make the decision as to coverage or no coverage based on the facts and the language in the policy. The lack of a signed written lease agreement may not be required and if there is some ambiguity in the policy language the matter may be resolved in your favor. Good luck!