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Feb 28, 2012

Sinkholes can cause major damage to homes in Florida

In 1981, in Winter Park, Florida a sinkhole opened up and swallowed a house and several nearby businesses. On June 27, 2011 a sinkhole swallowed part of a beauty salon in Leesburg, Florida.  In fact, Florida has more sinkholes than any other state in the nation. 

Sinkhole coverage has been part of most homeowners insurance policies until 2011-2012. In the past 10 years, there have been a large number of claims being filed on homeowners insurance policies in Florida, particularly from Hernando, Citrus, and Pasco Counties. Many claims made under these policies resulted in houses being declared a total loss when there has been little to no damage visible damage to the home.

In response, Florida law has changed and clarified the definition between houses damaged by a catastrophic ground collapse and damage from less severe sinkholes.  The law requires insurance companies to cover "catastrophic ground cover collapse," but damage caused by sinkhole may no longer be covered by your policy. 

How many sinkholes have been filed in my area of Florida?

University of South Florida has a map program that will show how many sinkholes have been reported by each county in Florida.  The maps are available by clicking here. Sinkholes are rarer in North and South Florida. Sinkholes occur much more often in Western and Central Florida. They are particularly common in Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Marion, Seminole, Polk, and Lake Counties

What is a Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse and how does it affect my homeowners insurance policy?

First what's the definition of Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse?   It's defined as a geological activity that results in ALL of the following 1) The abrupt collapse of the ground cover  2) a depression in the ground clearly visible to the naked eye  3) Structural damage to the building including the foundation  4) the insured structure being condemned and ordered to be vacated by the government agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure.  

 Under this definition, the damage caused by the 1981 Winter Park sinkhole or the 2011 Leesburg sinkhole would be covered under a homeowners insurance policy. The damages meet all 4 criteria above. Your homeowners policy will always cover these types of sinkholes.

However, the majority of the homes damaged by a sinkhole will not meet this “ 4 prong collapse” definition.  The Florida law has changed, and in response so has the insurance industry. Read your insurance policies carefully.  It is now possible that if your home is damaged by a sinkhole, but it does not meet ALL four criteria for catastrophic ground cover collapse - for instance, you may have foundation cracks from a sinkhole, but the home is still livable - your insurance may not pay for the damage if you do not have sinkhole coverage.

What can you do if you want to purchase the broader coverage for "Sinkholes?"

All insurance companies licensed to do business in Florida automatically include catastrophic ground collapse in homeowners policies. Also, all insurance companies must offer sinkhole coverage. This sinkhole coverage is usually as a addendum or rider to the homeowners policy with an additional charge to add sinkhole coverage on the policy. Most insurance companies before adding coverage for sinkholes will require an inspection from an approved inspection company that shows no existing damage. The insurance company will require certain inspection companies to be used and will usually split the cost of the inspection with you 50/50. The typical cost of inspection that a client will pay is $70 in Florida.  When the inspection company comes to your house, the will be looking for any cracks to the building, foundation, or driveway. If the inspection company finds any cracks, the report sent to the insurance company will note this.  The presence of any cracks at the house (whether caused by sinkhole or not) will likely prevent your home from being able to get approved to add the sinkhole rider.  The cost of the sinkhole rider will vary in different areas of the state. For example in North Florida it may be as low as $50, while in in Central Florida run $300, and sinkhole alley (Polk, Hernando, Pasco, Citrus Counties) it can be $500+ to add this coverage.

If you are buying a home, be sure that the house is insurable for sinkholes if this a concern to you. When you have the new home inspected, be sure to ask if the inspection will address any possible sinkhole activity, like cracks in the walls or foundations.

If you would like to get a Florida Home Insurance Quote, please call us at 904-268-3106.



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