Nobody wants to see sewage seeping back into their house through a drain or a toilet. If your house has its own septic system, your insurance usually covers the damages if your system backs up. Sewer systems are another matter – if you're hooked up to the sewer, your insurance won't cover any backups.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Whether your homeowners insurance covers a septic problem depends on whether your home's septic system or the city's sewer system caused the issue. You can expect coverage for your home's septic system but not for problems with the city's sewer system.
Coverage for Septic Systems
Individual policies and insurers may exclude septic systems from coverage, but they're the exception. The general rule is that when septic system contents flow up into your house, you're covered. That includes the costs of mopping up, removing fecal material, repairing ruined carpets and so on, less your deductible.
If damage is caused by a defective pump or damage to the pipes, your policy should cover it. The actual damage to the septic pipe – if it's clogged by roots, for instance – isn't covered, though your insurer may pay to dig up and get access to the pipe.
Coverage for Little Losses
Sometimes, water backs up because of a simpler problem – a drain clogged with hair, a toilet with something stuck in it, or one develops a sudden leak. Homeowners insurance is good for these problems too. Don't rush to call your insurer if there's only a small loss, though. The more claims you make, the greater the risk of your insurer canceling your policy. Even if it turns out the damage is less than the deductible, it could be held against you.
Limitations for Coverage
There are some circumstances in which your insurer is just going to look you in the eye and say no. If the adjuster decides you didn't provide the necessary maintenance on your system, he's not going to recommend paying you. If your septic system got hit by a disaster – ripped apart in an earthquake, for instance – your insurer may also refuse to pay.
Home insurance never covers damage your insurer can blame on earth movements or flood damage. Your insurance policy also won't cover the cost of having someone come out to empty your septic system every few years, as recommended, either.
Hiring an Adjuster
If you and your insurer disagree about whether you're covered, you can try hiring an adjuster of your own to make your case. For example, say you regularly empty the septic tank but the insurer says you didn't do it often enough: you're negligent, he's not paying. If you believe you're in the right, you can hire an adjuster of your own to review the case. You can also file a complaint with your state's department of insurance.
- Insure.com: Water Damage: Seven Home Insurance Scenarios
- All Lines Public Adjusters: Septic Systems ... Covered or Not?
- Nolo: Homeowners Insurance: What You Need to Know
- Insure.com: Home Insurance Exclusions: What Your Policy Won't Cover
- The Law Dictionary: Is My Septic Tank Covered by My Allstate Deluxe Homeowner’s Insurance Policy?
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.