What to know about hurricane moratoriums and property insurance

How to protect your home when a storm is on its way.

It can be tempting to wait until you need insurance to buy insurance, but that’s never a good idea. For health insurance and disability insurance, that strategy doesn’t work because of limitations and exclusions on pre-existing conditions.

And for property insurance policies — like car insurance, renters insurance and homeowners insurance — the strategy fails because insurers issue moratoriums on buying new policies when property damage is imminent, like right before a storm.

Moratoriums, also called binding prohibitions, are issued infrequently, but when they are, they can have serious repercussions for people who have been putting off purchasing or updating their homeowners insurance policies or renters insurance policies.

During hurricane season, carriers usually wait until a storm is 24 to 48 hours from impact before declaring a moratorium. Wildfires, riots, and other events can also trigger moratoriums on new coverage.

Flood insurance, which is sold by the National Flood Insurance Program, doesn’t issue a specific moratorium on buying coverage during storms, but does institute a 30-day waiting period on all new policies.

How do you know if there’s a moratorium in your area?

Many people don’t find out about insurance moratoriums until they’ve applied for an insurance policy and are told it’s not possible to get coverage right now. If you know there is a storm headed your way, save time by contacting a broker before you apply.

“Carriers issue moratoriums that stop new business once a storm’s path is seen to be likely to cause damages,” says Fabio Faschi, Property and Casualty Sales Associate with Policygenius. “A reputable national broker will be able to see which carriers have halted new business and which haven't, and they'll have more insight as to what areas a storm or hurricane may impact.”

A national insurance brokerage like Policygenius will be tracking a storm and receiving alerts from insurers from the moment the first moratorium is issued and will be able to give you an idea about how seriously the insurance companies are taking the storm and whether you can still buy new coverage or increase the coverage you have.

Learn about hurricane coverage provided by homeowners insurance.

Learn about hurricane coverage provided by renters insurance.

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Before the storm

Home preparations

The good news is that there are things that you can do to protect yourself and your property even if you don’t have insurance, or don’t have as much as you want.

In the days leading up to the storm, securing your home is the most important thing you can do, especially after insurance companies have instituted moratoriums. In fact, these are the same preparations that you should make even if you do have adequate insurance coverage. Your goal should be to avoid damage to your home, regardless of whether you are able to file a claim on it or not.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) recommends that homeowners take several steps in the weeks and months leading up hurricane season. Obviously not all of these can be done once a storm is bearing down, but by doing as much as you can, you can protect your property:

  1. Trim branches and trees

  2. Secure outdoor furniture, trash cans, flower-pots — anything not tied down can become a projectile

  3. Install storm shutters or fit plywood panels over windows and sliding glass doors

  4. Ensure garage doors are approved for wind pressure and impact; if not, install new doors

  5. Ensure exterior doors have at least three hinges and a one-inch deadbolt

  6. Seal outside wall openings, like vents, outdoor outlets, or other locations where pipes or cables go through the wall

  7. Clean gutters and direct downspouts to facilitate water drainage away from your home

Insurance preparations

Once your home is secure, there are two things you can do to make the claims process easier, should your home sustain damage and you need to make a claim.

1. Update your home inventory

If you have insurance, make sure you have an updated home inventory before a storm hits. If you’re short on time, it can be as simple as taking a video of all your possessions and the condition of your home and saving it to the cloud. Having this reference will make the claims process smoother for you and your insurance company, should you need to make a claim.

2. Understand your insurance coverage

Your declarations page is a great refresher on what your policy covers and what your deductibles are. The main things you need to check for are whether you have wind coverage and whether you have sewer back-up coverage. Flood insurance is separate policy, though of course you want to know if you have that, too.

Many insurance policies, especially for homeowners in coastal states, have separate deductibles for hurricane or windstorm damage. These deductibles, instead of being a dollar amount, will be a percentage of the insured value of your home — usually 1% to 5%. If you have a separate hurricane or windstorm deductible, it will be listed on your declarations page.

Your declarations page will also have information on how to start the claims process.

After the storm: File claims and update coverage

1. Document the damage

Once you and your family are safe and the storm has passed, it’s important to document the damage with photos or video before you attempt to clean anything up.

2. Document expenses

Depending your policy and the damage, you may be able to get reimbursed for evacuation costs if your home is damaged. Keep receipts so you can make a claim.

3. Be prepared for next time

Once the storm has passed, it’s time to start preparing for the next one, which means talking to an insurance agent about either getting covered or upping your coverage. Many moratoriums will be lifted in the days after the storm has passed, though some insurers wait longer to start writing new policies. Talk to your broker about whether it’s possible to purchase insurance.

“You can buy insurance once the moratorium is lifted by the individual carriers,” says Faschi. “If you received a certain rate prior to the storm, you may not be eligible for the same rate afterwards, especially if your property was damaged.”

And independent broker like Policygenius can help you evaluate your coverage, decide what kind of new coverage you need, and help you find the best company to give you that coverage. Start the quote process now by telling us a little bit about you and your home.

You’ll still have to batten down the hatches when future storms come, but it will be with the knowledge that you’re covered.

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Insurance Expert

Logan Sachon

Insurance Expert

Logan Sachon is the co-founder of The Billfold, a groundbreaking personal finance site for millennials that was named one of Time's 25 Best Blogs of 2012. Her work has been published in New York Magazine, Glamour, The Guardian, BuzzFeed and more.