Imagine this: One night, you hear a scratching noise coming from your attic. You grab a flashlight, nervous to confront whatever’s lurking up above. But instead of the ghoul you had expected, you discover a family of raccoons that have taken up residence in your attic.
Scenarios such as this one can be uncomfortable to think about. What if the animal or animals cause damage? You might assume that your homeowners insurance would cover any and all animal damage. But, most insurance policies treat animal-related damage differently depending on factors specific to the incident.
For example, if a moose ransacked your garage, you might be fully covered for the costs of repairing the damage, but if a horde of ants destroyed your fence, you might not be covered. That’s why it’s important to understand what your homeowners insurance policy does and does not cover in regard to animal damage, from pets to pests and everything in between.
Your homeowners insurance policy likely covers some incidents that have to do with your pets, but not all. For instance, if your pets or other animals in your care cause damage to your home or property, that is not likely to be covered by your policy. Similarly, your dog, cat, bird, or fish are probably not included in the types of personal property that are insured against theft, damage, or loss—such as your electronics and furniture.
However, if your pets injure another person, such as a guest or employee who is in your home with your permission, your policy may cover that person’s medical expenses arising from that injury. This coverage may also apply if your pet injures someone outside of your home—a stranger you encounter in the park, for example.
Keep in mind that if someone other than you or another person covered by your policy is caring for your pet at the time, this coverage may not extend to that individual.
Insects can wreak havoc on your property in all sorts of ways, but the circumstances under which insect damage is covered by homeowners insurance are often very narrow. Damage caused by insects to your home or other structures on your property is unlikely to be covered.
However, there are some special situations that many policies cover. For example, if a part of your home is rendered unlivable due to a structural collapse, and that collapse was caused by an infestation of termites, your policy may protect you if the termites and their destruction were hidden from view–that is, if you had no way of knowing that your home was being undermined over time.
Note that in most cases, it is considered your responsibility to monitor and protect your property against insect invasions and other forms of slowly occurring damage.
Mouse in the House
Along with insects, the types of wildlife most likely to cause you problems on your property are rodents and vermin. There are hundreds of varieties of rodents, including mice, woodchucks, squirrels, and gophers to look out for.
Vermin refers not to a particular species of animal, but to small, destructive animals that are difficult to control, or wild mammals and birds that are believed to be harmful to crops and farm animals or that carry disease. This definition includes rodents, but it would also include pigeons and bedbugs.
As far as your insurance policy is concerned, these critters are handled similarly to insects. A gradual intrusion of vermin into your home is probably deemed the type of disrepair that you are responsible for monitoring. However, as with insects, damage you were not aware of that results from the presence of rats or pigeons (for example) may, in fact, be covered.
In more complicated scenarios, insects, rodents, or other vermin may cause gradual damage that in turn leads to a more dramatic event. For instance, rodents could chew through wires, creating the right conditions for an electrical fire.
Alternatively, an occurrence that your policy does cover could lead to pest damage, such as if a large tree topples beside your house during a storm and its insect inhabitants take refuge in your siding. In cases like this, your policy may cover some or all of your damage.
Some animals you might think would be classified as vermin may actually not be. But even when they are covered, coverage issues can be complicated. Take bats, for example. Your policy may cover any the damage they do cause–say, shredded insulation–but it may not cover the cost of cleaning up the guano they leave behind.
And in case you were wondering about those raccoons, although they’re small and meddlesome, they are not considered rodents or vermin either. Therefore, if they destroy your attic, even if your policy excludes damage caused by other pests, it may cover the necessary repairs.
Moose on the Loose
Deer, bears, and other large wild animals are less likely to climb down your chimney than squirrels, of course, but they can still cause substantial damage to your home or other property. And in most cases, that damage is likely to be covered by insurance.
In general, homeowners insurance policies are more apt to cover animal-related damage resulting from a one-time occurrence than from conditions that build up over time. So although the clean-up from a family of mice gnawing away at the contents of your cupboards probably isn’t covered, repair costs for damage caused by a mountain lion crashing through your sliding glass door may well be.
Most people are probably more familiar with wildlife damaging vehicles than dwellings, as high-speed encounters with animals such as deer are common in many regions. The vast majority of motor vehicle damage is covered by an auto insurance policy and not a homeowners policy, and generally, auto insurers consider damage from contact with an animal to be an “other than collision” (often called comprehensive) loss, rather than a collision loss.
The rules about what is covered and what is not covered when it comes to animals in and around your home can get complicated. So always double-check your policy if you’re not sure what your coverage includes. And as with any insurance-related issue, ask your insurance company or agent if you have specific questions.
Remember that when animals are involved, it’s best to prepare for the unexpected.