Recovering From The Knysna Fire

What Every Homeowner Should Know

What started out as a normal Tuesday evening, quickly turned into a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions. The Knysna Fires which began on 7 June 2017, stretching from Great Brak to Plettenberg Bay, completely destroyed 846 homes, 150 of which were informal settlements. Causing damage to 307 houses, the suburb of Knysna Heights was hit the hardest when 22% of the homes were destroyed due to fire damage.

Unfortunately, over 50% of homeowners in the area did not have insurance, leaving plenty of residents in a predicament. For those who were fortunate enough to stay on top of their insurance policies, claiming back from insurance companies should happen as soon as possible in order to comply with legislation.

  1. It’s highly important that the homeowner files an insurance claim as soon as possible by contacting their broker. Failure to do so may result in a breach of policy.
  2. Although it may be traumatic to return to your house, it’s necessary that you secure what’s left of your home in order to deter looting and further damage to your property.
  3. You’re going to need somewhere to stay for the next 9-12 months, in which case it may be a good idea to ask your insurer for an advance on your final claim settlement. However, if you’ve experienced a total loss of your property, you should send a written request to your broker asking for financial assistance in the form of food, clothing etc.
  4. Next, you’re going to have to make a list of all damaged items; ensuring that you either keep the objects or take photographs of what’s left in order to prove that they actually exist.
  5. Although your insurer will send out assessors to evaluate the damage, it’s always a good idea to get your own repair and replacement quotes.

Remember to keep all documentation relating to your insurance claim such as receipts, phone call records to the insurance company, photographs, emails etc. in order to be in a position to claim for any losses or expenses whilst waiting for your insurance claim to pay out.

As a homeowner, what are your rights?
Having standard homeowner’s insurance is an absolute must, however, there are certain incidents in which your homeowner’s insurance will not cover fire damage:

  1. Arson
    By deliberately causing fire damage to your property, you become guilty of arson insurance fraud. Some individuals do this in order to collect insurance money. If arson is suspected, the insurance company will send investigators to assess the damage. If arson is found to be the cause of the fire damage, the insurance company will not pay out.
  2. Vacant property
    If a home, which is left vacant for 30 consecutive days, is damaged by fire, and the insurance company can prove that the home was not occupied at the time of the fire, the insurance company has full rights to deny the insurance claim. In which case, a vacant home insurance policy is a great option for homes which are occupied only for certain months of the year – covering the same perils of a standard home insurance policy.

Can tenants/renter claim from landlords?
Many renters/tenants assume that the landlord is responsible for property/household content damage in the event of natural or man-made disasters, however, the landlord is only liable for the property itself since s/he remains the owner, which is where renters insurance comes in extremely handy. Very similar to homeowners insurance or home contents insurance, renters insurance is meant for individuals who want to be protected from unfortunate events without having to own the property.

Although insurers are trying to stay on top of insurance claims, delays are expected with the enormous influx of claims that need to be processed. According to Old Mutual, “With nearly 10 000 residents evacuated and homes, schools, structures, and power and communication lines destroyed, the impact on short-term insurance claims is likely to be substantial.” This will result in residents having to dip into their savings in order to survive whilst waiting for their insurance claim to be processed.

Studies reveal that the number of natural disasters such as fires‚ floods‚ droughts, and extreme weather events will become more frequent as climate change becomes more evident, in which case, having proper insurance policies in place will be of the utmost importance.