After Hurricane Laura crossed Lake Charles, John Ieyoub knew his house was uninhabitable. Rain had seeped through holes in the roof, saturating Sheetrock, and utilities like electricity and water would not be restored for weeks.
According to them, the house was habitable.
“I wasn’t going to bring my family back there. It’s common sense, ”said Ieyoub. “We had to fight. “
Three weeks after Hurricane Ida hit southeast Louisiana, thousands of survivors are learning for the first time what their insurance companies are prepared to cover.
If their property is deemed “uninhabitable,” most policyholders are entitled to additional long-term living expenses, including coverage for hotel bills, restaurant meals and other expenses.
But it’s unclear how insurance companies determine a property is uninhabitable. None of the major carriers will disclose their criteria in detail. Instead, they say, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
This ambiguity often leaves consumers confused and frustrated, especially when a claim is denied.
“What defines the habitable? Up to studs, with exposure to insulation? Is it liveable? said Ieyoub. “It’s not clear and each insurance company defines it differently.”
Like so many survivors of last year’s storms, Ieyoub had to fight to get his insurance company to pay. Stripped of its posts, his house was not only uncomfortable, it was also dangerous. Ieyoub’s six-year-old daughter suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and the dust and debris threatened her health.
“I had to ask her rheumatologist to explain to them why it is unhealthy for her to live in a dusty environment,” said Ieyoub. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you have to do this.”
After asking for another adjuster and harassing his insurance company with nonstop calls, his claim was finally approved. But experience convinced him that reforms were needed.
“The fact that he changes from expert to expert shows you that it is not a good system,” said Ieyoub. “It should be a lot more cut and drier.”
As a member of Lake Charles City Council, Ieyoub in January drafted a resolution with his colleagues calling on the state legislature to create a clear definition of “uninhabitable” for insurance policies.
This demand spawned House Bill 458, a proposal that would have required insurance companies to pay additional living expenses when a damaged home does not have access to electricity, water, sewage or on natural gas for more than 24 hours.
State Representative Gabe Firment R-Pollock brought in legislation to correct what he called “bad behavior” among insurance companies after Hurricane Laura.
“A business would decide that even if the roof is blown out and you have water flowing in every room, no electricity, no water, ‘eh, that’s not really uninhabitable. We don’t pay. additional living expenses ”, testified Firment, consultant in insurance, during the regular meeting.
He added: “Then you would have another company or an expert who would say ‘well you have no electricity, you have no water, I guess you have a blanket’.”
The focus on utility outages is particularly relevant in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which left millions of people without power and vulnerable to the scorching summer heat of southern Louisiana. Already, 13 people have died from excessive heat due to prolonged power outages, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
The legislation made its way through the House but encountered an obstacle during a Senate committee hearing, where an insurance industry lobbyist said the measure would result in higher rates. They added that the proposal would effectively require their customers to act as insurers of the electricity grid.
During the hearing, Firment said he would withdraw the legislation if insurance companies could define “uninhabitable” for him, “but they cannot do it,” he argued, “because it does changes with each complaint “.
The Times-Picayune | The attorney asked each of Louisiana’s major insurance companies for their definition of “uninhabitable” to determine eligibility for additional living expenses. None offered more than broad generalities.
State Farm, which controls 26% of Louisiana’s insurance market, said each claim is handled on its own merits and said it takes into account “the health and safety of the client; the season and the climate; and affordability of the property “when determining livability.
USAA, Progressive and Allstate have each said they make their decisions on a case-by-case basis. Louisiana Farm Bureau Insurance did not respond.
It is not uncommon for insurance companies to keep this information secret, said Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry professional group. Insurance companies rarely share their underwriting guidelines with their customers.
“With competition, there are a lot of issues that insurers don’t discuss publicly,” Friedlander said. “It’s no surprise that you don’t see this in detail in a policy.”
Representative Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said when the legislature meets again next year, he expects lawmakers in Southeast Louisiana to be much more interested in insurance reforms. than they were earlier this year.
“They are about to get a taste of what we’ve been through – and what we are still experiencing today,” Geymann said, noting that a number of his constituents have exhausted their fees. additional sustenance even if they do not yet. have a home to return to.
State Senator Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, who chairs the Senate Insurance Committee, said lawmakers need to reconsider whether there should be a legal definition of “uninhabitable.” A joint hearing is tentatively scheduled for September 28 to hear consumers and insurance companies on the challenges they face in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
As his insurance company eventually gave in, Ieyoub said most people did not have the resources to fight back after their claims were rejected. He said reforms are needed to make the process “simple and understandable”.
“We are lucky that we can go through all the stages and play all the games, but most people cannot do it,” said Ieyoub. “A lot of people have been left behind in the cold.”
Are you facing challenges with your insurance company in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida? Send your story to [email protected] and a reporter can contact you.