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All You Ever Wanted to Know About Insurance

Homeowners Beware: Infestation and Animal Damage Exclusions

Wildlife is a pleasure to experience — but not inside your home. Animals can move into your attic, walls, chimney or other nooks and crannies. Dealing with their waste, unpleasant smells and damage is frustrating (and potentially expensive).

Most homeowners insurance expressly excludes damage from:

  • Birds
  • Rodents
  • Insects

Even if your problem doesn’t fit into one of these animal classifications (people have argued them in court), homeowners policies have a fallback exclusion. They exclude loss caused by “nesting or infestation, or discharge or release of waste products or secretions by any animals.”

How much (if any) your insurance will cover depends on the language in your policy. Even so, claims are often denied, leaving you holding the bill or taking your chances in court.

Insurance companies view infestations as preventable because they take time to occur, and it’s presumed reasonable maintenance would have solved the problem. If you neglected to take steps to rid your home of pests, you’ve allowed them to take residence. And that’s a failure to defend from an insurance company’s perspective.

A few critter scenarios

Infestations and the damage they cause are an out-of-pocket expense. But what about rogue attacks and other animals? Whether a claim is paid or denied is in the details, so make sure you discuss the nuances of animal damage with your agent. Until then, here are a few examples.

Raccoon party

A raccoon family invades the attic in your vacation home. On your next visit, you notice foul smells and hear the scurrying of the attic intruders. Instead of enjoying your vacation, you’re left mitigating an infestation.

You’ll need to hire an exterminator to remove the critters and close off the entry points. The damage to personal property, furniture, flooring and walls could be extensive. In addition to a professional cleaning and disinfection service, you might also need to replace some furniture and hire a contractor to repair any structural damage (like the roof or walls).

The cleanup cost to end this critter party can be thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, insurance may not pay for much (or any) of the damages.

Skunk spray

A terrible smell is wafting into your home. You discover that a skunk sprayed its scent under the porch. You contact your insurance company only to find they may not pay to clean or deodorize under your home due to an exclusion dealing with “nesting or infestation, or discharge or release of waste products or secretions by any animals.”

You could appeal this claim based on evidence that it wasn’t an infestation, but it’s all in the wording of your policy.

Deer charger

You’re standing in your living room, amazed to see a family of deer grazing in your front yard. You begin videoing the encounter from inside your house. Suddenly, one of the deer charges through your front window. It trashes your living room, smashes holes in the ceiling and floors, and destroys furniture. It takes a police intervention to coax the deer out.

Your insurance company reimburses you for the structural damage (drywall, window and hardwood flooring) but doesn’t cover your personal contents (area rug, chairs, sofa, table and window coverings).

The partial denial is because your personal contents are covered on a named perils basis, and destruction by deer is not one of the perils listed.

A (partial) solution to contents coverage gaps

You might be able to expand your contents coverage to include open perils rather than named perils. Open perils are usually less restrictive than named perils, giving you more wiggle room in case of a claim (like a wild animal break-in). Your agent can advise you on your situation.

Some home warranty policies may offer minimal coverage but they pay for prevention, rather than resulting damage. For example, your policy might reimburse the cost of annual pest inspections.

Language like “nesting or infestation, or discharge or release of waste products or secretions by any animals” is hard to overcome. Your best bet is to prevent infestations and act fast when you notice a problem.

Prevention tips

You can protect your home from animal damage by taking proactive measures. For example:

  • Keep food storage areas clean and secure.
  • Seal entry points using caulk and weather stripping.
  • Use a smart collar or microchip device so your pet door opens only for your pet.
  • Cut back your trees at least 10 feet from your home to discourage animals from jumping onto your roof.
  • Walk the perimeter of your home and look for signs of damage (like scratches or burrows).
  • Get your home inspected by a professional exterminator. They know what to look for, how to remediate problems and how to prevent infestations before they occur.
  • Set up regular pest control services. (Humane and eco-friendly pest control services are available for most regions. Include those terms in your online search.)
  • Research landscaping options and plant vegetation that doesn’t attract unwanted animals.

Call your agent

If you have concerns, contact your agent about the language in your policy. Infestations and critters are a standard exclusion, but it’s worth discussing your concerns before those raccoons decide to make your attic party central.