Why Aren't the WildFire Survivors Back Home Yet?

Fire Season Approaches For 2009 - Why Aren't San Diego's 2007 Fire Survivors Back in Their Homes Yet?

By Mark Shapiro

The October 2007 Wildfires are two years in the past but many of the affected fire victims have not yet been able to rebuild their lives and their homes. Out of the more than 1,700 San Diego City and County homes that were lost in 2007, only about 55% of the homeowners have obtained building permits and started their rebuild process. Many of those have not yet finished.

What is Taking So Long?

Under insurance is one of the most common reasons why homeowners were not able to quickly rebuild their homes. According to Amy Bach, Executive Director, United Policyholders, "After the 2007 wildfire in San Diego County, 75% of the victims found themselves underinsured by an average of $250,000."

United PolicyHolders recommends that you do not take your agent/insurers' word for it that you are fully covered without confirming and preserving their promises in writing. Ask your agent or insurance company for confirmation that you're adequately insured for a total loss.

Another reason that many have not been able to rebuild is because the insurance companies "lowballed" the estimated amount it would take to rebuild. Changes in local building and fire codes can substantially increase the cost of rebuilding as well.

"When insureds receive a lowball estimate and realize it is not enough, they then must renegotiate with the insurance companies which often means bringing in legal professionals or public adjusters," says Ron Reitz, President of San Diego Quality Claims Management. "This results in even more delays to the rebuilding process."

According to Valerie Brown, Project Coordinator at RB United, one of several affiliated non- profit fire recovery centers helping fire victims in San Diego County, "The most common issue is the long negotiation that occurs between what the contractors say it will take to re-build the house and the amount of money that the Insurance company is willing to provide for rebuilding."

There are ways to help prevent these insurance issues from affecting you.

Make sure you understand your insurance policy. Set up a time to meet with your agent to go over your existing policy to make sure you understand what is covered and what is not. Confirm that you have the right amount and the right type of insurance for your property and your possessions.

If you do have a disaster, and feel you are not being treated fairly, contact a professional for help. Talk to non profit organizations such as United PolicyHolders as well as numerous legal professionals and public adjusters who can help you. You may also with to file a complaint with your state Department of Insurance.


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