Coming Home After Hurricane Harvey: FAQ for Homeowners

As our neighbors return to their homes and communities in the coming days, they’ll realize that the hard work has only just begun. We’ve survived Hurricane Harvey—but now we’ll need to rebuild, recovery, and fight for every penny necessary to get our lives back to normal.

Today’s information addresses some of the most vital questions you’ll be asking. We hope you find this information helpful—and if you need more, speak with a Hurricane Harvey insurance claims attorney at (888) 493-1629.

The FAQ below answers the following questions:

  • My house is completely flooded and I can’t go home yet. What can I do?
  • Shouldn’t I wait to file a claim?
  • Where do I apply for FEMA assistance?
  • Do I have to pay FEMA back?
  • What if I need money faster than FEMA or insurance can pay me?
  • Can I start cleaning out my home once I get back?
  • I have roof damage—is that covered by flood insurance?
  • Should I assign my FEMA or insurance benefits directly to a contractor?
  • How do I choose a good contractor?

Warning: HB 1774 goes into effect tomorrow. It’s a law that makes it easier for insurance companies to deny, delay, or underpay a valid claim. To avoid the changes imposed by the law, you need to file a Hurricane Harvey claim today.

My house is completely flooded and I can’t go home yet. What can I do?

If you have a flood insurance policy with the National Flood Insurance Program, you can file a claim now—even if you haven’t gone home to see the damage. In addition, register with FEMA as soon as possible. Note: registering with FEMA and filing a flood insurance claim are two separate tasks.

Filing an insurance claim gives you the money you’ll need to repair your home and mitigate the losses you’ve suffered, and it assumes that you had a flood insurance policy beforehand. Registering with FEMA gives you access to federal funds on top of your policy payout, whether or not you have flood insurance.

In addition, FEMA registration allows you to apply for disaster loans with the Small Business Administration.

Shouldn’t I wait to file a claim?

Insurance companies will be occupied for weeks (maybe even months) following Hurricane Harvey. The sooner you file a claim, the sooner you’ll get an adjuster out to your home—and the sooner you can get your insurance payout.

In addition, a law affecting how quickly you’ll receive relief is going into effect tomorrow. Like we mentioned above, if you don’t want your claim to be affected by this law, you need to file a claim today.

Where do I apply for FEMA assistance?

Go to the Disaster Assistance website, enter your address to learn if you’re eligible, and apply for assistance. If you’re in the Houston area, you’re almost certainly eligible—this just allows you to begin the process. Create an account with FEMA to check the status of your assistance and upload important documents to your profile.

If you do not have Internet access, call 1-800-621-FEMA to apply for assistance over the phone.

Do I have to pay FEMA back?

Any assistance you get through FEMA is granted to you without needing to repay it. Emergency home repair, temporary housing, and disaster-related expenses (aside from evacuation costs) are covered.

What if I need money faster than FEMA or insurance can pay me?

If you find that you need more money immediately, the Small Business Administration has a disaster loan program that allows you to apply for money quickly. You can do it online from the SBA website in the link.

You will need to register with FEMA before applying. You’ll also need:

  • Contact information
  • Social Security information
  • FEMA registration number
  • Deed/lease information
  • Insurance information
  • Income, account balance, and monthly expenses
  • Employer Identification Number (for businesses)

Can I start cleaning out my home once I get back?

Here’s what you need to do first: take photos of all damaged items and damaged areas. Extensively document (as in, make a list) of every item that was damaged that you’ll want to claim on your insurance. Once that’s done, you should be able to start tearing out wet drywall and start drying out your home.

However, do not throw away damaged items until your insurance company has had a chance to inspect your home or you get written permission to do so. Do not rely on your adjuster’s verbal permission.

I have roof damage—is that covered by flood insurance?

No, roof and window repairs fall under “wind damage,” which is covered by homeowner’s insurance. You’ll want to file a separate homeowner’s claim to whoever insures your house.

Should I assign my FEMA or insurance benefits directly to a contractor?

It might sound convenient, but please do not sign a contract that funnels your relief away from you. You need that relief for a variety of needs, and you should be in charge of where it goes—not your repair company.

How do I choose a good contractor?

If you’re looking for a contractor, find one who is local and was in business before Harvey struck. Disasters attract overnight “businesses” who prey on desperate homeowners. Use the Better Business Bureau for reputable companies.

Even if you want to pay for repairs quickly, get multiple estimates, request referrals, and don’t accept “cash only” arrangements. If your contractor feels “iffy,” ask to check their contractor’s license and insurance credentials. Remember—you’ll be living with these repairs for a while. It pays to do your due diligence.

If your insurance company is giving you the run-around or denies your claim, call us for immediate help. Arnold & Itkin has plenty of experience forcing insurance companies to do their jobs.

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