How hoarding can jeopardize your home insurance

By Gina Roberts-Grey Posted : 02/02/2011

Hoarding and home insuranceIf you stockpile years worth of newspapers, wade through waist-high waves of clothes or simply can't bear to part with any personal belonging, you could jeopardize your ability to get – or keep – home insurance.
Many home insurance policies have fine print that says you must keep a tidy home, says Michelle Rupp, spokesperson for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

"Hoarding falls under the 'housekeeping' category," Rupp says.
A few dust bunnies or a pile of paperwork won’t be a problem. But Rupp says you better tidy up if you're an extreme hoarder with mounds of papers, boxes and other debris.
Otherwise ,you might not be able to buy home insurance.
"It's quite common for an insurance company to inspect a property before issuing a policy," says Rupp. "And if they see that hoarding has replaced housekeeping, the insurance company may not write the policy."

Hoarding can also leave you holding the financial bag if you file an insurance claim in the event of fire, damage or other situations, Rupp says.

"Insurance companies can deny a claim based on housekeeping, too," she says.

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Hoarding triggers home insurance claims

Hoarding causes "numerous complications," making it the source of many home insurance claims, says Ken Sherman, owner of Sherman Home Inspection Services in Lake Villa, Ill.
Complications that arise out of hoarding include:

  • Black mold. Sherman says this is the biggest threat because mold grows in damp areas (like under mounds of clothes, papers, boxes, etc.) and creates a health hazard to anyone who inhabits or enters the home. "The lack of air circulation in these areas contributes to mold growth," he says. Furthermore, home insurance excludes mold damage.
  • Structural instability. Sherman says the excess weight of all that accumulated "stuff" can cause parts of your home to cave in. "The walls could deteriorate from dry rot and the floors could literally collapse if there's too much weight from hoarding," he says.
  • Bugs. Termites, ants, rodents and other vermin are quite fond of all the hiding spots created among hoarded items. These pests could eat away at your walls, insulation and the home's structural system, leaving it susceptible to damage.
  • Water damage. "It's common for the bathroom faucet to be hidden behind years of items so you won't notice the constant dripping," says Matt Paxton, a nationally recognized hoarding expert featured on the A&E program "Hoarders." "Or you may be too embarrassed to let a plumber in to make the repairs but that small leak becomes a busted pipe over the years and results in a flood."

Hoarding and fire risks

Hoarding also can lead to another homeowners insurance nightmare – fire.

"The items you hoard can become kindling, too," Sherman says.

Stuffing spare rooms with your collections can lead to a fire. It may cause your electrical wiring to short out from built-up moisture, triggering a blaze. Or, the items themselves can become kindling if they're in a dry area.  

Other sources of fire include "excessive heat buildup of buried cords" and "mice or other vermin nesting in the system and/or gnawing at wires," Sherman says.
Fred Grambs, EMS captain for the Wayland Fire Department in upstate New York, says that in addition to the risk of a fire claim, hoarding can significantly increase the amount of damage due to fire.
"When hoarders have their items piled high, there's the danger of items falling down into the path of firefighter trying to control the blaze," he says.

When that happens, what should be a partial loss can turn into the destruction of your entire house – hoarded items and all.
"Hoarding also makes it difficult for a firefighter to enter, search and find a person trapped in a fire," Grambs says. "Getting to someone trapped by mountains of hoarded items can be difficult, but the real challenge comes when we're trying to get them safely out of a burning building."

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