Florida homeowner claims Bill of Rights

Your rights as a Florida homeowner

In 2018, the Florida legislature passed a law (Senate bill 627.7142, if you want to dig deeper) introducing the concept of a homeowner claims bill of rights for Florida residents. The law requires that, when a homeowner submits a claim to their insurance provider, the provider must send them this claims bill of rights within 14 days after receiving the claim.

The goal of the bill of rights document is to outline in plain English your rights as a homeowner in Florida (as well as your responsibilities), specifically as they relate to the insurance claims process.

We at Kin love this idea. We know that the jargon of the insurance world can be confusing for homeowners, and we think that understanding what to expect from your carrier – and what your carrier expects of you – is crucial to having a positive claims experience.

So we’re recreating the Florida homeowner claims bill of rights here, in language that we think is even more user-friendly than what the state has so far published. Read on for a breakdown of your rights and responsibilities during the insurance claims process, along with definitions of terms you may not already know.

Your rights during the insurance claims process

If and when you’re in a situation to submit a claim on your homeowners insurance policy, you have the following six rights under Florida homeowners insurance laws.

1. The right to acknowledgement within 14 days

Within 14 days after you submit your claim to your insurance company, the company has to send an acknowledgement of that claim. The bill of rights doesn’t specify what format this acknowledgment must take, so be on the lookout for both digital and paper communications.

2. The right to updates within 30 days

Florida law requires insurance companies to make fairly quick decisions about whether an insurance claim is covered. To make that decision, though, the insurance company needs what’s called a proof-of-loss statement.

The proof-of-loss statement is a form that your insurance company provides. You as the homeowner are responsible for filling it out. You’ll be expected to provide details about the loss that triggered the claim you’re filing, including:

  • Date and time of the incident: Be as precise as you can. This will help claims adjusters verify your claim.
  • Type of incident: Describe whether your property was damaged by a fire, theft, thunderstorm, or something else.
  • Property that was damaged in the loss: List anything that was harmed, from your home itself to specific possessions that were damaged.
  • Type and extent of the damage: Smoke damage? Complete burning? Water damage from sprinklers? Crushing? Is your property repairable or will it need to be replaced? Be as specific as possible.
  • Evidence of the loss: Pictures are worth 1,000 words, as they say, so take images or videos of your damaged property if possible. If the incident led you to call the police, include a copy of the police report.
  • Current replacement value of your property: Note the amount of money it would cost to replace your property with brand-new equivalents. (Read more about replacement-value property insurance.)
  • Any parties who have a financial interest in the damaged property: Typical answers will include you and your mortgage lender.

Within 30 days after your insurance company has received your complete proof-of-loss statement, the company is required to let you know whether your claim is:

  • Covered in full;
  • Partially covered;
  • Denied; or
  • Being investigated.

Note that your proof-of-loss form must be complete, though. If you’re not sure how to fill out any section, feel free to get in touch with your agent for guidance.

3. The right to timely payment within 90 days

Homeowners insurance is designed to make sure you can recover when unexpected events derail you. For that to be a reality, you have to be able to expect to receive compensation for your losses within a reasonable timeframe.

Florida homeowners insurance laws set a 90-day limit. Within 90 days of submitting your complete proof-of-loss statement, you have the right to receive one of these:

  • Full payment for your claim: If the claim you submitted is fully covered by your homeowners policy, the insurance company must pay in full.
  • Payment of the undisputed part of your claim: Not all claims are immediately approved. Maybe you submitted a claim for three types of damage and your insurance company only agrees to cover two of them. The 90-day limit applies to those two. The third type is considered “disputed,” which means you may have to offer further information to your insurance company before it will make a decision about coverage.
  • A written denial of your claim: This happens when your insurance company determines that your loss is not covered by your homeowners policy – for example, if you submitted a claim for damage caused by flooding, which is excluded from standard homeowners insurance policies.

There’s one important caveat to this right: it’s possible that you might not be the only one who receives money for your claim. This happens in what are called “dual interest” scenarios. Dual interest happens when more than one party has a financial claim to your property.If you’re not sure whether your homeowners insurance includes any dual interest provisions, check with your agent.

4. The right to free mediation

We mentioned disputed claims above. If you have a disputed claim – that is, you and your insurance provider can’t agree about whether you should receive a payment – you may be eligible for free mediation to resolve the dispute.

You can take advantage of this mediation by contacting the Florida Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Division of Consumer Services.

The homeowner claims bill of rights language notes that homeowners have access to free mediation in “most cases,” but that exceptions apply. Find out whether you’re eligible for this mediation by contacting the state’s DFS.

5. The right to free neutral evaluation

This one is a more limited right. What the Florida homeowners bill of rights actually says is that you may be eligible to participate in a free neutral evaluation under these circumstances:

  1. You have a disputed claim; and
  2. That claim involves damage caused by a sinkhole; and
  3. That damage is covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

6. The right to contact the state for help with claims

This one’s important because the claims process can be confusing. If you have questions about a homeowners insurance claim or need help navigating the claims process, you can contact the toll-free hotline run by Florida’s Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services online or via phone at 877-693-5236.

Your responsibilities during the claims process

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, a homeowners insurance policy is a two-way document: your insurance company agrees to pay you money under certain circumstances, and you agree to follow certain protocols. For the policy to remain active, both parties have to uphold their ends of the agreement.

The Florida homeowners bill of rights outlines six key responsibilities homeowners have to be eligible for payment of insurance claims. Here’s a look at what they are.

1. The responsibility to keep your insurance company in the loop about repairs

Before signing a contract with someone for repairs on your home – from a tree removal specialist to a construction team – you’re required to check in with your insurance company. Why? Because most insurance policies include language defining how you should handle repairs.

For example, an insurance company may want to examine the damage to your home so it can assess the likely cost of repairs. Giving the company the chance to do this before you enter into a contract helps prevent a situation where a contractor charges you far more than the insurance company is willing to pay, which can lead to denied or partially denied claims and, more generally, headaches all around.

2. The responsibility to prevent further damage

In many cases, immediate damage to your property (like a hole in the roof caused by a fallen tree branch) could lead to much worse damage (like water damage caused by rain getting in the hole).

For this reason, most homeowners insurance policies require homeowners to make and document emergency repairs when they’re required to prevent further damage. This might mean, for example, buying a tarp and securing it over the roof hole.

As a homeowner, you’re also required to…

  • Keep the damaged property (when feasible).
  • Keep receipts for any emergency repair supplies you buy.
  • Take photographs before and after any emergency repairs you make.

Of course, there are certain exceptions to this rule. If, for example, you’ve left your home because of an evacuation order, you aren’t expected to return to make emergency repairs if conditions are not yet safe.

3. The responsibility to read repair contracts

The homeowner claims bill of rights specifically notes that homeowners should “carefully read any contract that requires you to pay out-of-pocket expenses or a fee that is based on a percentage of the insurance proceeds that you will receive for repairing or replacing your property.”

Translation: both of these practices are suspect. If you come across someone asking you to pay upfront, out of pocket or to pay a portion of your insurance payment, proceed with caution.

Those who have legitimate business practices should have policies in place for bidding on a project that will be covered by insurance benefits. Further, repair work should be based on the effort required to do it, not on how much money you’re likely to receive from your insurance company.

Note that most insurance companies will offer a list of approved contractors if you’d prefer to save yourself some legwork.

4. The responsibility to check your contractor’s license

Sensing a pattern? A lot of your responsibilities as a homeowner during the claims process involve making sure you’re doing due diligence on the people you enlist to help you repair your home.

Florida homeowners insurance law requires that homeowners verify that the contractors they work with are licensed to do business in the state. To do that, you can visit the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. You should also:

  • Check to see whether the contractor has any complaints against them.
  • Ask the contractor for references from their previous work.

5. The responsibility to verify your contractor’s insurance

Before repairs start, you’re required to verify that your contractor has an active (“in-force”) insurance policy. In fact, you may want to verify that they have a few policies:

  • General liability insurance, which protects against most of the things that can go wrong during the course of their work on your home.
  • Workers compensation, if they have employees.

To check their policy, ask to see a certificate of insurance. Check for the policy’s expiration date. Call the insurance company named on the policy to verify that the coverage is active.

6. The responsibility to secure your home if the damage requires you to leave the premises

If the damage to your home means you’ll have to live somewhere else for a while, you’re responsible for securing your property while you’re not there. That means locking it, of course, but also turning off your water, gas, and electricity. It also means making sure your insurance company has a way to contact you other than your house phone for the time you’ll be gone.

This helps ensure that no further damage happens while you’re not there to keep an eye on things.

Exceptions to Florida’s Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights

The homeowner claims bill of rights is a helpful resource for Florida homeowners hoping to better understand how their homeowners insurance coverage works. But it’s also important to know that there are exceptions to your rights as a homeowner.

Notably, if circumstances are beyond an insurance company’s control, they will likely be exempt from the guidelines outlined in the claims bill of rights.

For example, a statewide emergency declaration might prevent an insurance company from sending acknowledgement of your claim within the 14-day timeframe outlined. Or maybe a hurricane that affects the insurance company’s headquarters causes it to miss the 30-day deadline for letting you know whether your claim will be covered.

Another important note: this homeowner claims bill of rights is not an exhaustive list of all your responsibilities or rights as a homeowner; it only outlines those that specifically pertain to the homeowners insurance claims process.

Have questions about what’s expected of you as a homeowner? Drop us a line. We’d be happy to help in any way we can.