New Building Codes Can Leave You Under-Insured

The owner of a commercial building may believe that replacement cost insurance coverage on the building is sufficient to protect her from financial loss. After all, she took the insurance agent’s advice and bought enough insurance to pay for repairing or replacing the building if it were completely destroyed. However, this may be a false sense of security, particularly if the building is an older one. While the building may not have changed greatly over the years, local building codes undoubtedly have. Even codes in effect at the time the building was constructed may affect your insurance coverage.

Many local governments have ordinances that require the demolition of a building when more than 50 percent of the building has been damaged. These ordinances require the reconstruction of the building in accordance with current building codes. Zoning and land use codes may have changed over the years prohibiting the reconstruction of that type of building at the same site. This could require the owner to rebuild somewhere else or with a much different building design. Laws and codes requiring buildings to be easily accessible to handicapped people may affect rebuilding if the building previously lacked ramps, doors that can be opened remotely, wheelchair-accessible toilets, and other accommodations.

All of these requirements may significantly increase the cost of rebuilding. Unfortunately, standard commercial property insurance policies provide very little coverage for these higher costs. Most will pay either 5 percent of the amount of insurance on the building or $10,000, whichever is less, for the increased cost of construction resulting from a local ordinance or law. Therefore, the amount of insurance available for a building insured for $150,000 is $7,500; the amount available for a building insured for $500,000 is $10,000. The costs of demolition and rebuilding up to new codes or at a new location can quickly use up this relatively small amount.

Building owners should consider buying additional insurance to cover this possibility. Many insurance companies offer ordinance or law coverage for an additional premium. This coverage will pay for the additional costs of demolition and construction unless the costs result from failure to comply with previous ordinances or from the release of pollutants. Included are three distinct coverages for the specified building:

  • Coverage A – Loss to the undamaged portion of the building
  • Coverage B – Cost of demolishing the undamaged portion of the building
  • Coverage C – Increased cost of construction or repairs to comply with ordinances or laws

The amount of insurance available under Coverage A equals the amount of insurance covering the entire building. Separate amounts apply to Coverages B and C. There is no coverage if the damage results from a cause that the policy excludes. For example, most policies do not cover flood damage, so the policy will not pay if the law requires the owner to demolish the building after a flood. Also, the insurance will pay only the amount necessary to meet the minimum requirements. The insurance will not pay for the cost of exceeding requirements during rebuilding.

This insurance covers the owner only for the cost of repairing or replacing the building, not for income lost during additional reconstruction time. Separate coverage is available for this exposure.

An insurance agent can advise building owners on the types, amounts, and costs of coverage they may need to meet updated codes. Whether or not they ultimately decide they need the coverage, they should give it careful consideration. The last thing any owner wants is a surprise uninsured expense after a disaster.

Insuring Your Student Away at College

Sending a child off to college is always an exciting and anxious time for parents. They worry about their child’s safety, whether she has everything she needs, how she’ll get along with her roommates, and whether she’s ready for independent living. Between making sure that textbooks and supplies have been purchased, tuition bills paid and course registrations completed, it’s natural that parents won’t think about insurance considerations. However, accidents can happen at college just as easily as they can at home, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about insurance coverage.

A homeowner’s insurance policy may not cover a part-time student or one over a certain age. For example, policies often state that a person has coverage if she is a full-time student and was a resident of the policyholder’s household before moving out to attend school. They also limit coverage to students who are either under the age of 24 and related to the policyholder or in the policyholder’s care and under the age of 21. This could become an issue when the child is attending college at a later age, or at graduate school, law or medical school, where students are often in their mid-twenties. The parents should discuss this with an insurance agent and consider asking for a change to the policy that would eliminate these restrictions.

A typical policy covers the student’s belongings while at college, but limits coverage to 10 percent of the amount of insurance covering the parents’ personal property. For example, if the policy shows a limit of $100,000 for coverage of personal property, it will cover the student’s property up to a maximum of $10,000. If this amount of insurance is too low, parents should consider higher limits.

Many colleges require students to own a laptop computer. A standard homeowner’s policy will cover a laptop, but only for a small number of causes of loss. These include perils like fire, theft, lightning, explosion, and vehicle damage. The policy does not cover damage from someone dropping the computer, spilling a beverage on it, or damage to its circuitry from a power surge. However, many insurance companies offer special computer coverage that will pay for damage from these types of accidents. An agent can explain to the parents what the coverage includes and how much it will cost.

The homeowner’s policy will also cover the student’s liability for any injuries or damages she may cause to others while at school. For example, the policy would pay for repair or replacement of dormitory furniture that she may accidentally damage.

If the student brings a car to college and the parents’ auto insurance policy lists it, the student will have coverage for its use. Of course, the student could also buy her own policy. If she does, she should buy liability coverage in an amount at least equal to what the parents have. Purchasing only the minimum limits required by state law could leave her owing a large amount out of pocket if she causes serious injuries to others in an accident. If she doesn’t bring a car with her, the parents’ policy will cover her while using someone else’s car unless it’s regularly available to her. The car owner’s policy should also provide her with coverage.

Parents’ insurance policies will automatically cover many student situations. However, parents should read their policies to verify the coverage they have. A discussion with an insurance agent is in order if anything is unclear or appears inadequate. A little bit of advance checking can save a lot of worry and expense later.