Sometimes your homeowners policy won't pay to fix a leaky roof, period. If your roof is just decrepit, your insurer doesn't care: Insurance pays for sudden, accidental events, not for gradual decline and aging. In other cases, your roof damage falls under a cause or category that entitles you to file a claim.
Most homeowner policies kick in when bad weather trashes your roof. If your roof springs a leak because of violent winds, the weight of snow or gutter dams -- ice in the gutters that forces melting snow indoors -- contact your insurer immediately, even if the leak is ongoing. Take photos of the leak and any damaged property in the house. Do what you can to reduce further losses, such as putting a tarp over the roof or moving furniture away from the leak.
In some parts of the country, insurers treat weather differently. Because of the Gulf Coast's history of hurricanes, many Texas and Florida policies do not cover roof damage from the storms. Texas has created its own government-backed insurance network to handle windstorm damage for homeowners living near the coast. In California, insurers may deny claims if the problem was caused by a third party -- for example, if water leaked through because a roofer left a hole.
Even when your insurer won't pay for roof repairs, the company may still cut you a check for soggy carpets and furniture or ruined computers. In addition to taking photos to prove the damage, save the items even if they're ruined. The insurance adjuster may want to see them to confirm the claim is valid. Keeping a good inventory helps. If you can identify for the adjuster exactly what model of computer and router got leaked upon, and how much a replacement will cost, that speeds up the process.
When you call your agent, ask if there are any steps she needs you to take to make the claims process easier and quicker. Follow her advice. If the damage is minimal, however, consider whether you can get by without insurance. If you end up filing another claim in the next year or so, your insurer may decide you're too expensive a customer and cancel your policy. The Nolo legal website recommends taking as high a deductible as you can afford.
- Insure.com: Will Home Insurance Pay for a Leaky Roof?
- InsuranceAgents.com: How to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim
- Texas Tribune: Task Force Targets Windstorm Insurance Challenges
- Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog: Southern California Braces for More Strong Winds; Damage to Structure Interiors May Not Be Covered
- Nolo: Homeowners Insurance: What You Need to Know
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images