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Are Mudslides and Landslides Covered by Home Insurance?

Your regular, standard-issue homeowners insurance covers the structure of your house, your personal belongings, an injured visitor and, if you are unable to live in your house, additional living expenses. But these four types of coverage do not include mudslides.

While no insurance product covers mudslides, there are insurance products that cover mudflows. If you'd like to know more about mudflow coverage, scroll down.

Are Landslides Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

No. Homeowners insurance does not cover the property damage caused by landslides, whether the landslides occur due to heavy rainfall or, say, slope instability caused by human modification or human development. If your home is vulnerable to landslide hazards of earth, rock, mud and other material, you can purchase a special policy to protect against landslide activity. If your current insurance company does not offer landslide coverage, you can purchase it separately from another carrier.

U.S. Geological Survey on Landslides, Mudslides

A landslide is "the movement of a mass of rock, debris or earth down a slope," according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Exacerbated by gravity, landslides, also called lahars, can start where the ground is sloped and already on the verge of movement by rainfall, snowmelt, changes in water level, stream erosion, changes in ground water, earthquakes, volcanic activity, disturbance by human activities or any combination of factors.

Furthermore, there are five modes of slope movement: falls, topples, slides, spreads and flows. These categories are subdivided by the type of geologic material (bedrock, debris or earth). According to the U.S.G.S, "Debris flows (commonly referred to as mudflows or mudslides) and rock falls are examples of common landslide types."

So, in short, mudslides, or debris flows, are a subcategory of landslides. While no insurance policy covers mudslides, you can buy add-on insurance for mudflows. Scroll down to find out the difference between mudslides and mudflows.

Rider and DIC Policy for Landslides

A standard homeowner policy will not cover damage caused by landslides due to rain runoff, melting snow, flooding and earthquakes. But you can purchase a special rider that will cover your house's or business's contents after a landslide event. However, this rider only covers the building's contents, not the building's structure.

To protect your home itself or other, unattached buildings on your property, you can buy a stand-alone "difference in conditions" (DIC) policy. Covering natural events such as landslides, earthquakes and floods, DIC insurance pays for your home to be rebuilt to its original condition. DIC policies are sold by surplus-lines insurers.

What's a Surplus-Lines Insurance Company?

The surplus-lines insurance market sells high-risk insurance that standard insurance companies won't provide, so a DIC policy may be more expensive than a standard homeowners insurance policy. An annual premium can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and there may be a high deductible and a high premium.

Not every insurance company sells DIC coverage, so be sure to ask your insurance agent for recommendations. You also can check with your state's department of insurance for a list of companies selling DIC policies.

Debris Flows: Mudslides vs. Mudflows

While mudslides and mudflows are both technically debris flows, mudslides "typically don't contain enough liquid to seep into your home, and they aren't eligible for flood insurance coverage," according to the Insurance Information Institute. So, a mudflow has a much higher level of water content than a mudslide.

While there is no endorsement, or add-on insurance, for mudslides, you can purchase an endorsement for mudflows. Generally speaking, these policies cost between $1,000 to $1,500 a year, depending on how your area is classified. Without it, you'll have to pay out of pocket for cleanup and repairs if your home is damaged by a mudslide.

Which Insurance Product Covers Mudflows?

A mudflow is basically a river of mud. Since water is the primary ingredient in a mudflow, flood insurance will usually reimburse you for the losses associated with this event. You can purchase flood insurance from many private insurance companies as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program.

But just like with landslide coverage, mudflow coverage is not included in any homeowners policy and must be purchased separately.

Buying Flood Insurance in the United States

Your current insurance company probably sells flood insurance. For example, Allstate, Assurant, Liberty Mutual, MetLife and USAA all offer flood coverage. However, if your current carrier refuses you coverage for down-slope debris-flow activity, you might try contacting an insurance company that specializes in flood insurance:

  • Flood Insurance Agency
  • FloodSimple Insurance Services
  • Neptune Flood Insurance
  • Better Flood Insurance

If these specialty carriers refuse to offer you coverage, your best bet is to enroll in FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

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Buying Flood Insurance from FEMA's Program

In order to qualify for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), your house has to sit in one of the designated 23,000 or so areas the program covers. To find out if your domicile is located in one of the designated communities, go to the NFIP website (floodsmart.gov): There, you'll find a handy map that identifies every one of the recognized flood-prone areas. You can also call 877-336-2627.

The NFIP is partners with more than 60 insurance companies nationwide, so there's some elbow room to comparison-shop for the cheapest policy. If you can't find a carrier, you can use the NFIP insurance provider locator to find a carrier near you.

On average, NFIP's flood coverage costs about $750 a year. However, if FEMA has determined that your community's flood risk is low or moderate, you may be eligible for discounted rates. Called a "preferred risk policy," this flood insurance can cost as little as $250 for 12 months of coverage.

What Does NFIP Flood Insurance Cover?

The National Flood Insurance Program offers both building coverage and contents coverage, which protect your home and your belongings, respectively. Here are some examples of what's insured under NFIP's building coverage:

  • Electrical and plumbing systems

  • Furnaces and water heaters

  • Refrigerators, cooking stoves and built-in appliances, such as dishwashers

  • Permanently installed carpeting

  • Permanently installed cabinets, paneling and bookcases

  • Window blinds

  • Foundation walls, anchorage systems and staircases.

  • Detached garages

  • Fuel tanks, well water tanks and pumps, and solar energy equipment

Here are some examples of what's insured under NFIP's contents coverage:

  • Clothing, furniture and electronic equipment

  • Curtains

  • Washer and dryer

  • Portable and window air conditioners

  • Microwave oven

  • Carpets not included in building coverage—for example, carpet installed over wood floors

  • Artwork, furs and other big-ticket items (up to $2,500)

What Are the NFIP's Liability Limits?

Like all flood insurance coverage, the NFIP extends to both residences and commercial properties that sit in a designated flood zone, regardless of the likelihood of risk.

Residential properties can be insured up to $250,000 for the building and $100,000 for the building's contents. Commercial properties can be insured up to $500,000 for the building and $500,000 for the building's contents.

Note: The building and contents coverage are two separate insurance products, so they are sold separately and have separate deductibles. There is usually a 30-day period before either insurance kicks in.

What Isn't Covered by NFIP Flood Insurance?

NFIP flood insurance only covers property damage when that damage is the direct result of flooding. If your happy home is flooded by a burst pipe or backed-up sewage lines, the NFIP won't reimburse you for the cost of the damage, but your home insurance may cover some costs. However, if your sewage lines are backed up or your utility lines are damaged as a direct result of flooding, the NFIP will pay out.

Are You Living in a High-Risk Flood Area?

If you have a mortgage on your home and your home is located in a high-risk flood zone, your lender will probably require flood protection throughout the term of the mortgage. If you live in a "special flood hazard area" (SFHA), you are required by law to purchase flood insurance.

The FEMA flood map indicates all the flood zones in the United States and each zone's level of risk, whether low, medium or high. In fact, FEMA has staff that can help you to determine if you're in an officially recognized flood zone.

Are Submarine Landslides Covered?

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, "Earthquake shaking and other factors can ... induce landslides underwater. These landslides are called submarine landslides." Many policies will mitigate the risks associated with submarine landslides or submarine earthquakes if they are determined to be the direct cause of damage. However, not all insurance companies cover these events, and if they do, they may have restrictions. If you live near the water and your residence or business is vulnerable to submarine landslide hazards, call your licensed insurance agent for clarification about your policy.

Which Auto Insurance Covers Landslides?

Comprehensive auto insurance will cover your car if it is subject to theft, vandalism, weather damage (hailstorms, windstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes) and natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, mudflows and landslides).

Comprehensive auto insurance comes with a deductible, so you should choose an amount that makes sense for your budget. The higher the deductible, the lower your premium will be. Whatever deductible you choose, put the deductible amount into a small emergency fund. That way, the money will be there if you should need to make a claim on your auto insurance.

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Damage from Landslides Can Be Devastating

Landslides happen only 20 to 30 times a year in the U.S., and the majority of them occur in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and North Carolina. If you live in a high-risk area in one of these states, you may want to consider a special rider (to protect your house's contents) or a "difference in conditions" policy (to protect your house's structure).

A debris flow of earth materials, a debris avalanche, mudflows, rock falls and other types of landslides can cause great destruction:

  • After the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, more than 200 homes were devastated along or near the North Fork Toutle River. "The mudflow shattered and uprooted thousands of trees, destroyed most of the local bridges, and deposited an estimated 25,000 acre-feet of sediment" in one area alone, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Indeed, mudflows swept "over hills as high as 250 feet"!

  • When the slope of a hill collapsed in Oso, Washington, in March 2014, a debris flow caused 43 deaths and decimated about 50 structures along the Stillaguamish River. Rock, earth, mud and debris covered an entire square mile.

If you live in an area with a history of landslides, getting the proper insurance is a no-brainer. If you live in an area with lots of rain and hills, steep slopes or mountain slopes, call your insurance agent.

Recognize the Landslide Warning Signs

If you look out your window and see boulders in a field, that's probably a sign of a previous debris flow. Here are some other signs of landslide activity to look out for, according to FEMA:

  • Unusual sounds, such as rushing water, trees cracking or boulders knocking together. As a landslide nears, you will hear a faint rumbling that steadily increases in volume.

  • Moving fences, retaining walls, utility poles, k-rails or boulders.

  • Progressively leaning trees.

  • A change in drainage patterns.

  • Doors or windows stick or jam for the first time.

  • New cracks appear in your house's plaster, tile, brick or foundations.

  • Outside walls, walks or stairs begin to pull away from the building.

  • Slowly developing cracks appear on the ground or on paved areas (streets, driveways).

  • Underground utility lines break.

  • Bulging ground appears at the base of a slope.

  • Water breaks through the ground surface in new locations.

  • The ground slopes downward in one direction and may begin to shift in that direction under your feet.

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