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. Some major insurers pulled out of Florida recently due to the state's history of catastrophic hurricanes, and the market is dominated by a state-owned insurer. Texas has for similar reasons created its own government-backed insurance network to handle windstorm damage for homeowners living near the coast.
Even when your insurer won't pay for roof repairs themselves, the company may still cut you a check for soggy carpets and furniture or ruined computers and appliances caused as a result of the roof damage. 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 of what you owned and how it was damaged often can help. If you can identify for the adjuster exactly what model of appliances like a computer or 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 his or her advice. If the damage is minimal, however, consider whether you can get by without filing an insurance claim. 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. Nolo recommends taking as high a deductible as you can afford in order to limit your premiums.
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