How to file a flood insurance claim

To file a flood damage claim, follow these steps:

  1. Call the claims number of your insurance carrier right away to start the claims process. After a natural disaster, many claims will be filed, so get yours started as quickly as possible. Call your private insurance company or call the NFIP’s claims number to help get you started: 877-336-2627.
  1. Document the damage. “Proper claim documentation should include the following,” Masone says, “as long as it's not unsafe to gather it.” Gather the following:
  • Receipts and itemized lists of belongings damaged by the flood.
  • Photos of the water and any property or belongings the flood may have damaged.
  • Swatches (small samples) of damaged carpets, curtains or other fabrics damaged
  1. Do your best to prevent further damage to your home and your belongings. Try to prevent mold and mildew, as these are not covered by flood insurance. Do minor repairs and clean up to the best of your ability.
  1. Work with the claims adjuster who is assigned to your case. Provide all the required forms and documents, and meet all deadlines. Keep notes of everyone to whom you speak. 
  1. Get repair estimates from reputable contractors to fix the damage. Submit these receipts to your insurance carrier, which will issue a check to pay deposits to start the work. 

“Keep in mind that repairs often take longer than the claims process,” Masone says. 

She suggests the following:

  • For major repairs, get a minimum of three estimates. Don't hesitate to question the contractors on variations in pricing.
  • Ensure all estimates include work details, offer a fixed price and a signature.
  • Never proceed with repairs based on a verbal agreement.
  • Ask for state licenses and references and take the time to call them.

A final word of advice for the claims process: Understand your policy before a natural disaster strikes.

“It's essential that [homeowners] understand their flood insurance policy before a claim occurs,” Masone says. "We recommend reviewing coverage with their independent agent so they know its limitations, such as whether there is coverage for basement damage.”

How long do you have to file a flood claim?

Depending on the state and your insurance carrier, the deadline for filing a flood claim varies. For instance, Masone’s company Selective Insurance has a 60-day deadline for providing proof of loss to your insurance adjuster. The deadlines you'll have to meet will vary from carrier to carrier and state to state.

Start the claims process as soon as possible after a flood or any other natural disaster. One reason to act quickly is mold and mildew, which aren’t covered by flood insurance or home insurance.

Another reason to file your claim right away is that insurance companies are inundated after a natural disaster. Waiting puts your claim down on the list, delaying your repairs and prolonging your home's time in disarray.

The more time passes, the harder it is to prove the source of the damage to your home. This is what insurance adjusters will be looking at closely. If they can’t determine that flooding was definitely the cause of the damage, it could result in a claim denial.

How does flood insurance pay out?

Flood insurance pays out in a couple of different ways, depending on whether you have an NFIP or private flood insurance.

For damage to your home’s structure, NFIP policies cover damages at replacement cost, which pays to rebuild your home using today’s labor and materials prices. You’ll generally get one check to pay a deposit to your contractors so they can start the repair work. You'll get a final check when they’re done and everything is up to code and inspected.

For damage to your personal belongings, NFIP policies pay out at actual cash value (AVC). This is a depreciated amount. You’ll get a separate settlement check for your personal property.

If you have private flood insurance, your coverage will vary. Check your policy to find out what type of coverage you have.

“Remember, flood insurance policies are different from homeowners insurance policies,” Masone says. “Homeowners should read their flood insurance policy, talk to their independent agent about what is and is not covered, and determine if they need additional contents coverage to ensure personal items are protected.”

Why would a flood claim be denied?

A flood claim might be denied for several reasons. The No. 1 reason a flood claim is denied is if you don’t have flood insurance. Many homeowners mistakenly believe flood damage is covered by homeowners insurance, and are surprised that the claim is denied.

According to Masone, some common reasons flood claims aren't covered include:

  • The policy excludes coverage for the loss. 
  • A flood did not cause water damage. For example, it could have been caused by wind-driven rain, a broken pipe or a leaky roof.
  • The coverages purchased aren't the right type to cover the damage. National Flood Insurance Policies offer two types of coverage: one to protect the building and one to cover the insured building's contents. If an insured did not purchase contents coverage, any damaged personal items would not be covered.
  • The amount of the loss is less than the deductible.

Another reason you may be denied may be related to when you purchased your flood insurance. There is a waiting period for flood insurance to kick in, commonly 30 days. Purchase flood insurance well ahead of flood or hurricane season to ensure your coverage is in effect.

What to do if your flood insurance claim is denied

If your flood claim is denied, you can appeal. If your policy is with the NFIP, you can appeal through FEMA. You have 60 days to appeal and FEMA will review your case.

You have a couple of options if your policy is with a private insurer. You can escalate your claim to a supervisor or manager and see where it gets you. You can also hire a public insurance adjuster to work on your behalf. Public adjusters are impartial and don’t work for the insurance company. Do your research and hire a reputable licensed and bonded insurance adjuster. Most public adjusters will charge a fee, but it will be taken out of your settlement and not charged upfront.

In either case, if you aren’t satisfied with the outcome and have exhausted the appeals process and believe your claim was denied unfairly, you can hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit.