By Carolyn Ray, CBC News
Insurance bureaus north and south of the border say Canadians who own property in U.S. areas hit by Irma need to get on the phone and learn whether their homes have been damaged.
In 2015, the Bank of Montreal estimated that 500,000 Canadians owned property in Florida, parts of which were walloped by the hurricane Sunday and Monday.
Amanda Dean, vice-president Atlantic of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said it may be too soon to travel to the region, but it’s not too soon to contact your insurance company.
“The last thing you want to do is get in the way of first responders,” she said.
Both the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the American Insurance Association have tips for what property owners should do in the days ahead.
Call your caretaker
Whether it’s a caretaker, property manager or neighbour, ask someone who is already in the area to visit your property as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Have them take some photographs in the wake of a storm, so they can give you an idea of whether your house is generally in good shape or if you need to make a claim,” said Mike O’Malley of the American Insurance Association.
Contact your insurance provider
Both Dean and O’Malley said it’s important to be clear with the insurance provider that you are not in the country, and ask specifically what steps they need you to take.
O’Malley said emergency adjusters will be sent to the area to help sort through the thousands of claims and they will want to visit the property. You don’t have to be there to move ahead with the process.
“Most policies are going to require you to report as soon as reasonably possible,” said O’Malley. “You need to have somebody with keys to your house down there. They’re not going to break into your house to see interior damage.”
Clarify your coverage
In the United States, hurricanes fall under two different plans for homeowners.
Most plans generally cover damage from wind. But storm surge is covered by a secondary policy sold by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Make sure you are in contact with the appropriate insurers if you have different policies.
“Get that claims process started as quickly as possible,” said Dean.
Hire someone to fix immediate issues
It’s your responsibility to do any quick fixes, such as cover a hole in the roof.
“A homeowner’s insurance policy generally has some duties that are placed upon the policy holder upon the event of a loss,” said O’Malley.
“If you have damage to your property, it is your duty to make sure that if there are things you can do … that would prevent further damage to the property. You have a duty to do those things.”
Plan for next time
If you were one of the fortunate ones who didn’t experience any damage, this is a good chance to review policies and plan ahead.
Call your insurance company and ask direct questions about scenarios to make sure you’ll be covered the next time a storm hits. Snap a few photos on your phone to keep on hand if you experience any kind of damage.
“You really need two different policies, especially if you’re in a flood-prone area if you have storm surge,” said O’Malley, who suggests calling soon so “you wouldn’t be faced with the unfortunate prospect of trying to figure that out after the fact.”