Ensuring the best possible outcome for a renter's insurance claim
November 3, 2013 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Mildew in our apartment destroyed a lot of my stuff, and I would like to make a claim on my renter's insurance. I am looking for advice about how to go about this to ensure that this goes as best for me as possible.

A burst pipe under my apartment's bathtub resulted in a bunch of my personal belongings (in the bedroom, adjacent to the bathroom) getting totally destroyed by mildew*. I have renter's insurance and plan to file a claim. The only experience I have with something like this was when our storage unit was broken into last year and I filed a claim with the storage insurance company (not USAA). It was a horrible back-and-forth cycle and we got a fraction of the value of the stuff that was stolen, so I am looking to avoid that.

What should I say or do (or not say or do) to make sure that this goes as smoothly as possible?

Relevant details:
  • Policy is with USAA, covers up to $20,000 personal belongings (replacement value), $500 deductible

  • Policy language includes "Damage caused by accidental escape of water from plumbing, heating or air conditioning pipes, fixtures or equipment or domestic appliances will be covered."

  • I took pictures and made a spreadsheet of the items lost

  • I have email correspondence with the maintenance people

  • I live in San Francisco, CA

  • I calculated that the cost of the items destroyed and the dry cleaning is close to $2000

  • *Not sure if this is relevant, but I don't really understand the difference between mildew and mold. The stuff on the window frames was more black and the stuff on my clothes and shoes was more green and fuzzy.
    posted by radioamy to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
    We have USAA and my husband has filed more than a few property claims. They make it SO easy and fast. In one case his bike was stolen and the first rep he talked to looked up the price of its replacement and immediately transferred the money into his account.

    I would just tell them what you told us: burst pipe, damaged belongings due to water damage / mold. Have your spreadsheet available.

    USAA is teh awesome.
    posted by charmcityblues at 6:43 PM on November 3, 2013

    USAA has an app and I think an interface through their website that lets you upload supporting documents, but I'd recommend just giving them a call to get the ball rolling. Over the years I've made claims for auto, renters and home owner's insurance, and eery time they've been super helpful and the process has been painless.
    posted by goggie at 7:08 PM on November 3, 2013

    as an alternative to a renter's insurance claim, i would consider asking the landlord to pay for it, because the structure is his responsibility, and a burst pipe causing flooding is a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, and you are in one of the most tenant-positive jurisdictions in the known world, which has a small claims court you should learn how to use as if it were another power tool from home depot, and there is no deductible when you do that and your premiums are at no risk of going up, and why should usaa (and you) have to pay for the landlord's failure to maintain his plumbing, and because he has or should have insurance too, and finally, on the rare occasions when a landlord breaches his obligations under your lease, you can temporarily morph into a merciless raging asshole wielding the sword of law, just like i can.
    posted by bruce at 7:36 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Bruce brings up a semi valid point, but it's a bad idea to avoid reporting this sort of thing to an insurance company that's supposed to be covering for this sort of thing just to avoid the premiums going up or whatever. Insurance companies hate that shit.

    Generally, if homeowners or renters insurance sees that you could legally recover this money from the landlord or some other part *they* will go after recovering it from them. Their lawyers will know what is up there. Attempting to do an end run around them would either be fruitless, or if it succeeds could create a fucked up situation.

    So lets say that works and you win and get money for your stuff. But you later discover more damage or just generally have more issues relating to this.

    The first things the insurance company is going to jack you up with after they ask you a lot of good questions about why you didn't talk to them previously will be are "are you double dipping? prove this wasn't already paid for" and "how can you prove this damage wasn't caused by that other incident you didn't report to us".

    You are potentially creating a big tangly web to trap yourself in here by not just calling them. Whether or not you actually file a claim and try and get money out of them, i think it would be good for there to at least be some correspondence with them you can file away to prove that they were made aware that this incident occurred if you later have to make a separate but related claim, or another claim entirely. You don't want this coming to light as something you just like, omitted to tell them when you want their help with something else. They love telling you to get fucked and using that kind of thing as an excuse.

    Note that i'm not saying you shouldn't research what legal protections are in place in your local landlord tenant law(which i've heard is totally badass down there from a tenants perspective) and whether pursuing a small claims case might be the easy way to go about this.

    What i could see happening though is even if that is the case, it's like you get the insurance to pay now then file. If that works out in your favor you get reimbursed your deductible.

    See where i'm going with this?
    posted by emptythought at 7:50 PM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

    In California, as far as I know (and I've dealt with this twice) this is strictly a Renters Insurance Issue.

    I would include every single thing damaged, down to the thumbtack, hoping to use up the deductible so that all major items are replaced.

    My insurance pays on replacement value, not what the used item is worth. Does yours do same?

    That's a concern here should you file a claim.
    posted by jbenben at 9:20 PM on November 3, 2013

    Response by poster: I don't really understand "replacement value" or at all how they value the item, how does that work exactly? What can I do to get the maximum amount from the insurance company? I'm not looking to scam them or anything like that, I just want a fair check.
    posted by radioamy at 9:50 PM on November 3, 2013

    danger danger radioamy...be careful how you word this. Most insurance companies now have an exclusion or major limitation for mold or mildew losses. You should review your insurance policy to see if there is such an exclusion. If there is no coverage provided, it is not recommended to submit a claim, since it would be denied. if you go forth...make sure you just call it "water damage".

    Why wouldn't this be covered by the landlord? It was his water pipe that burst. Why haven't you placed a claim with him/her?
    posted by naplesyellow at 10:33 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I have always taken replacement value to mean the cost of buying the same item if it's still for sale, or the current equivalent item if it's not. I was always instructed by both my parents(who have quite a bit of experience as landlords, dealing with insurance companies, and in my dads case running a business and insurance on equipment there) that it's not the depreciated value of the item which wouldn't get you a new one, but whatever you paid at retail that's on the receipt. There's a reason they say replacement value and not just value. It's "what would this cost you to go out and get an equivalent replacement".

    Any antique or not generally available in the market items should probably be appraised. Anything that there's a newer equivalent version available but the version you had no longer is(IE you had a 2010 macbook air, and now the 2013 model is out. You're looking at the 2013 since it's the the same price and the replacement that's available, not the value of used 2010s or some crap).

    So generally speaking, as a TL;DR, it's what that item would cost if you were to go buy a new one shrink-wrapped in the store. My friend ended up with a 160gb iPod as a replacement for his 40gb through this sort of thing.

    I also have experience in dealing with insurance on something that is no longer available in retail. Mainly a high end road bike from the late 60s/early 70s that was damaged by an accident caused by a drunk driver. They had me look up the damaged components on ebay and show them the market values of equivalent parts and fairly easily just went "Ok, that's the market value for these parts in like new or NOS condition, here's a check". That can get veerrrry tedious though.
    posted by emptythought at 11:37 PM on November 3, 2013

    No one suggested you scam anyone. It's clear you are unfamiliar with your policy.

    The advice to call this "water damage" is super helpful.

    I have not seen a tenant successfully collect on this type of damage from their landlord in CA, but the OP's jurisdiction may be different.

    If something was water damaged and you are in doubt as to whether to document the damage, make sure you add the item to the list so that the full picture is complete.
    posted by jbenben at 9:38 AM on November 4, 2013

    For replacement value vs. depreciated value, what happens is that you say the replacement value for the thing is N. The insurance company gives you N/2. When you replace the thing, you send them the receipt and they send you the other half. (Basically anyway. That's how it worked when we had a fire, iirc.) There was one payment for contents where they were giving us the lesser amount for things we hadn't actually replaced and the whole amount of replaced items. Later on, they had us submit another pile of receipts and gave us the difference on those things.) So you say you have a ruined $500 sofa. They give you $250 or something. Then later, you send them a receipt for your new $550 sofa and they'll send you $300. It's actual replacement value once you replace it. Things just need to be similar. If you buy a $1600 sofa, they aren't going to give you $1100. But they'll give you at least the $500 total. It seemed like it was easier for us because we had pretty normal basic stuff. If you say you had a $1000 computer, that seems reasonable, that's how much normal computers are. If you say you had a $9000 computer, you might have to produce some extra evidence.

    Of course, YMMV, I Am Not an Insurance Expert, I just burned down my house a bit 6 1/2 years ago and my memory could be hazy. Memail me if you want! I spent a Loooooong time making spreadsheets of the values of ruined stuff.
    posted by artychoke at 9:25 PM on November 4, 2013

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