Severe weather is expected to hit many parts of South Africa this weekend. Here’s how to make sure your insurance claims aren’t rejected should something happen to your property
Extreme weather appears to be the new normal, evident by the volume of insurance-related disputes reaching the industry watchdog’s desk.
To avoid a situation in which your insurer refuses to pay up, you should proactively ensure that your home is well-maintained and ready for whatever winter has in store.
According to the South African Weather Service, an intense cold front is expected to reach the country by Friday afternoon, resulting in adverse weather conditions for the Western Cape. Strong westerly to north-westerly winds (40 to 60 km/h) can be expected from the morning onwards over the entire Western Cape Province, ahead of the arrival of the cold front.
Many claims involve storm damage
A report by the Ombudsman for Short-Term Insurance (OSTI) found that in 2017 many of the complaints under homeowners’ insurance related to storm damage and other acts of nature. A key finding in the report shows that even if you have homeowners’ insurance, policyholders need to ensure that they properly maintain and protect their homes from extreme weather patterns. Failing to do so puts the policyholder at risk of having their claim rejected.
Disputes arise when the damage ‘could have been prevented’
According to Vera Nagtegaal, Executive Head of Hippo.co.za, homeowners’ insurance usually covers loss or damage because of fire, theft, flooding or other natural disasters, which are sometimes described as ‘acts of God’.
“However, disputes and possible claim rejections can arise when damage could have been prevented by the homeowner.”
Nagtegaal adds that when assessing these disputes, the ombudsman will consider whether, for example, a roof would have collapsed if it had been properly maintained.
“To avoid damage in the first place, and at the same time, avoid any risk of a dispute with an insurance company, homeowners need to make sure their houses are able to withstand extreme weather conditions,” she explains.
Nagtegaal says it is vital to maintain your property to avoid financial woes and to ensure the safety of your home and those who live in it.
“The good news is that you don’t always need a professional to assess whether your home needs some TLC,” she adds. “You probably know which areas need attention, but you can start by doing a visual assessment of the exterior of your house, noting anything that needs to be repaired or sealed.”
1. Gutters and drains
Gutters and drains that aren’t doing their job properly are common contributors to interior flooding or other weather damage. “Clear drains and gutters of all debris and run some water down them to make sure that they are still balanced to flow in the right direction,” Nagtegaal suggests. “Also ensure that they are secured to the roof and unlikely to come loose in heavy rain or wind.”
2. Roof maintenance
The roof is another area that should be addressed: loose tiles and any leaks should be repaired.
3. Doors and windows
If your home has any doorways prone to leaking in times of heavy rain, consider installing a rubber water guard along the bottom, or having sandbags at the ready. “It could also be helpful to consider the path that water might take around your home during heavy rain and make plans to seal doors where necessary,” says Nagtegaal.
4. Perimeter walls
Another common type of damage to property during and after a storm is that the perimeter walls often collapse under the pressure of flood water. Nagtegaal recommends looking at every wall on your property that is perpendicular to the flow of water and making sure that the water has an escape route. “Small holes every couple of metres along the bottom of a solid wall are an effective way of preventing a wall collapse,” she says.
5. Garden furniture, equipment and plants
To avoid wind damage, ensure that all external furniture or other equipment is secured, so that such items do not come loose in a storm.
Nagtegaal suggests trimming trees on your property, paying special attention to older, heavier branches that may break off in wind or rain.
“Homeowners should also look at any potted shrubs or bushes that might tip over due to extreme winds.”
Nagtegaal says that while maintaining your home is essential, it is equally important to ensure that you have adequate insurance cover in place in the event of damage or a loss.
“Therefore it is important to always review the cover you have in place to ensure that you aren’t caught off-guard by having a claim only partially covered as a result of under-insurance.”