Your homeowners insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurance company that governs your rights and obligations. As well as spelling out your covered losses and the dollar limit of your coverage, the policy should specify how long you have to submit an insurance claim. If the policy is silent, state law limits the amount of time that passes before a claim becomes stale.
Scan the Policy
Most insurance policies contain language that tells you how long you have to make a claim. In some policies, the language is very specific -- requiring you to file a claim within one year of the incident, for example. Miss the window, and the insurance company likely will deny your claim. Other policies ask you to file a claim “promptly” or “as soon as possible.” If your claim falls into this category, in theory, you can argue that any delay is reasonable, as long as you justify why you waited so long to submit the claim.
State Statutes Vary
Each state has a statute of limitations for filing insurance claims. In New York state, for example, you have six years from the date of the property damage to pursue an insurance claim. However, the language of the policy may, and usually does, shorten the limitation period further. Thus, you can submit a claim three years after the insurance event only if your state's statute of limitations is greater than three years, and your policy does not reduce the claim window.
Light Bulb Didn't Flash
The clock starts ticking on the date the damage occurred, known as the date of loss. Sometimes the date of loss is hard to determine -- you may walk past a crack in your driveway for many months, for example, before you notice it. For slow-burn cases such as these, you may be able to argue that the date of loss is not the day the property damage actually occurred, but the day you finally realize something is wrong. However, the delayed moment of recognition is a difficult argument to run -- get professional advice before submitting a claim.
Downside of Delay
A typical homeowners policy requires you to file a claim within a year of the date of loss. There is a logical reason for this: The longer you wait to file a claim, the greater the chances that your home will suffer further damage. For example, if you don't file a claim to fix a minor leak in your roof, water penetration may rot the timbers and cause electrical shorts. Take precautions to minimize the damage and make a timely claim or risk losing out on full homeowners insurance coverage.
A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.