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Friday, January 6, 1995
Home Edition
Section: Business
Page: D-1

Floods Reveal That Coverage Is Rarer Than Southland Rain; Insurance: Many homeowners will have to pay for repairs after Wednesday's soaking. Laws governing liability are vague.;


Many homeowners who suffered damage from Wednesday's rain, wind and flooding are going to get soaked a second time paying for repairs, because much of the destruction is uninsured.

There is virtually no private flood insurance for homeowners, so the National Flood Insurance Program is the only game in town for most coverage.

But unfortunately, unlike in the Midwest, there is very little participation in the program in Southern California. There are only a few scattered places where lenders require flood insurance, and not many consumers here buy the coverage voluntarily.

Renters have the right to expect their landlords to repair flood-damaged property, but the law is vague about how quickly the work must be done. And lost or damaged belongings generally aren't the landlord's responsibility.

Even if you don't have federal flood insurance, you may still be covered for water damage under your homeowners policy, but only in certain situations. Rising ground water isn't covered, nor is leakage just from rainfall. But if, for example, the high winds blew shingles off your roof, causing water to leak through, most policies will pay for repairs. The same goes for water damage that follows a tree branch poking a hole in the roof.

The storm proved a boon to many businesses as residents tried to clean out flooded homes, patch up leaky roofs and restart stalled cars.

Home Base's Long Beach store saw sales double Thursday as homeowners and contractors snapped up roofing materials, gutters and flashlights, general manager Ted Schwab said. The store had already sold out of sump pumps and rain suits.

"We were besieged," Schwab said. "It was surprising how many people came out in the rain."

Western States Cleaning & Restoration of Los Alamitos had crews working nearly all night to dry out soggy carpeting in homes and businesses, general manager Al Butler said. The bill for drying out a
2,000-square-foot home--not including a new carpet--could be as high as $1,500, he said.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., California's largest homeowners insurer, received about 8,000 homeowners claims and 1,500 auto insurance claims Thursday, a spokeswoman said. Flood damage to cars is covered under "comprehensive" auto policies, which generally have deductibles of $50 to $250.

A number of State Farm's homeowners claims probably are from federal flood insurance policyholders, the spokeswoman said. Private companies such as State Farm sell the federal insurance and process the claims, which are ultimately paid by the government.

State Farm is opening a number of special emergency claims centers near hard-hit areas, including Long Beach, Costa Mesa, Culver City, Simi Valley and Carmel Mountain in San Diego County.

Farmers Insurance Group, No. 3 in the California homeowners market, received about 1,000 homeowners claims Thursday, with a lot of wind-damage claims concentrated in the San Diego area, spokesman John
Millen said.

The low participation rate in the National Flood Insurance Program is partly due to the fact that the government has not recently remapped large areas of Los Angeles County to reflect the increasing flood hazards that come with urban sprawl, according to Jack Eldridge, director of the program for the western United States. Large areas that used to provide drainage are now covered by concrete.

In September, the government plans to release an updated map of the Los Angeles River flood plain that will add more than 100,000 homes to the number now considered at high risk for flooding. To qualify for
mortgages from federal lenders, homeowners in those areas will be required to purchase flood insurance. Today, only about 5,000 homes in Los Angeles County fall within official high-risk zones.

There is greater participation in the program in Orange County than in Los Angeles County, largely because the Santa Ana River flood plain has been mapped more recently, Eldridge said.

The contrasts are striking. To cite a few Orange County examples, Huntington Beach has 13,636 homes with federal flood insurance; Santa Ana, 12,299; Fountain Valley, 9,165; Garden Grove, 3,842, and
Westminster, 3,489. Among communities in the Los Angeles River flood plain, the entire city of Carson has only 15 policyholders, Torrance has 16 and Long Beach has 2,457, Eldridge said.

Basic flood insurance covers damage to the building, but coverage for damage to the contents is also available. Premiums for a basic policy for a home with a $100,000 replacement value range from $222 to $412 a year, depending on how the home is built and where it is, Eldridge said. For $60,000 worth of contents coverage, premiums range from $59 to $149, he said.

State law requires landlords to maintain their property in good condition, repairing it when necessary. In the event of a disaster such as a flood, there are no hard and fast rules about how quickly a landlord must repair water or mud damage. Tenants who have been flooded or mudded out of their homes can expect repairs to be made "within a reasonable amount of time." But the law doesn't specify what that is.

"If you have a broken window in the summertime in a notoriously safe neighborhood, it is different than during winter, for example," said Stan Feldsott, a partner with the Newport Beach law firm Feldsott Lee &

Making repairs quickly is actually in the landlord's best interest, said Christopher Savage, a Newport Beach real estate lawyer, because tenants are customers who have the option of taking their trade elsewhere. The landlord who does not hold up his or her end of the bargain, Savage said, may soon be out of business.

If the damage is extensive and the repairs are slow in coming, tenants have the option of withholding their rent payments without risk of eviction if they can prove that the building is not habitable. The rent money should be set aside in an escrow account until landlord and tenant can come to terms.


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