6 steps HOAs can take before a disaster strikes

Note: This week’s column was written by Bob Freitag of AmeriClaims, Inc., a firm of public insurance adjusters in Indian Trail that represents individuals, organizations, and businesses after a property disaster.

No one likes to think about disasters. The truth is that fires, floods, water damage and storms are a frequent occurrence in our state. When you are part of a homeowners’ association (HOA) or a condominium owners’ association (COA) and have many units on a property, your chances increase of sustaining damage from one of these events. So how can your HOA prepare for hail, tornadoes, a polar vortex, and other disasters?

• Make sure you have adequate insurance in place before a claim occurs. You want to insure your property, including the building and its contents or equipment, for its full “replacement cost,” which means today’s prices.

• Do not insure property for the purchase price or the tax value, as that’s usually much lower than the replacement cost. You do not want “actual cash value” insurance, as it pays only for the depreciated amount of the property, and you will not have enough money to make the repairs or replace the property.

• Make sure you have all other coverages necessary for your unique situation: flood insurance if you’re in a flood plain; ordinance and law coverage especially for older buildings; asbestos or lead-based-paint coverage if that’s present on your property. Compare rates every couple of years with a good independent insurance agent who can shop multiple insurance companies to obtain the best coverage for the lowest price.

• Have a plan ready. Know how to reach the owners or tenants, whether by phone, text, or mass e-mail in case of a disaster. Have a contact person who can inspect the property and advise you on immediate needs. Someone will need to coordinate emergency repairs, including extracting water, boarding up windows and doors, or tarping a roof.

Your insurance policy requires that you protect the property from further damage. Your failure to do so may lead to damages not being covered down the road.

• Document the property before a loss occurs. Keep photos or videos of the property in a safe, or upload the images to a cloud server. In the event of a total loss, photos, plans and videos are very helpful in documenting the dollar value of what you lost. If you have equipment or contents, keep an inventory of these items and include the model numbers where possible.

• Consider retaining professionals if a disaster occurs. I’m admittedly biased on this point, but as a former adjuster on staff at insurance companies, I know the insurance company will have many professionals working on their behalf.

A public adjuster represents you. Public adjusters can arrange for temporary repairs, review policies, obtain estimates, inventory property and usually negotiate a larger settlement from your insurance company than if you or your HOA try to negotiate on your own. A smart HOA board will locate a good public adjuster firm before one is needed.

Originally published in the Charlotte Observer on January 25, 2014.

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