When is a flood not a flood? That’s a serious question for southeast Florida’s residential communities. Even if they have flood insurance, damage caused by heavy rains and backed-up sewers may not meet the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) definition of a flood—and that can mean financial devastation for condo or co-op owners who thought they were fully covered.
What Counts...and What Doesn't
“Flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flood and losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure, or other similar causes,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of communications at the Insurance Information Institute, a non-profit trade association sponsored by the property-casualty insurance industry. “To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties.”
By those metrics, “If a broken pipe caused the backup of water into an apartment, it’s not a flooding event and would not be covered,” explains Thomas A. Cook, Jr., a senior vice president in the West Palm Beach office of Brown & Brown Insurance, Inc., one of the world’s 10 largest insurance intermediaries. “A broken water or sewer main could cause a flood, but it has to affect you and at least one other property, or encompass at least a two-acre area.”
“When you have a sump pump, septic tank, or sewer that fails to function and backs up into your living quarters, that’s insurable through homeowners’ insurance,” adds Scott McGinness, vice president of Gregory & Appel Insurance, whose company serves clients in Florida. “Check carefully with your carrier,” he advises. “Some include it, some don’t. Some set up a sub-limit. You may have to ask for that coverage—and pay extra for it—but normally it’s available.”
Where Flooding Happens
In Florida, the Gulf Coast region and the Keys are most susceptible to coastal flooding due to their flat, shallow shoreline. “The mean flood level could inundate some of the Keys altogether,” Cook says. In southeast Florida, “Everything east of Biscayne Bay is at risk.” That includes Miami Beach, the barrier islands up the coast through Sunny Isles Beach and beyond, and low-lying coastal sections of Hollywood.