After the rain finally stopped falling in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many homeowners removed personal property from their homes, generally to permit it to dry in the sun. Unfortunately, while we saw many examples of humanity’s best side during Harvey, there remain those who cannot resist the temptation to steal from those who have been hurt by a hurricane.
A policyholder should file an insurance claim for any such theft. The standard Texas homeowner’s policy (Homeowners Special Form, or HO-3) provides coverage for theft of personal property, and provides that “[t]his peril includes attempted theft and loss of property from a known place when it is likely that the property has been stolen.” There is no specific exclusion for items removed from the home that remain on the policyholder’s property.
To the extent possible, homeowners should attempt to make a record of any property they temporarily remove from their house. Simply taking pictures of the property with a phone would even prove helpful. At the same time, a homeowner should take reasonable steps to avoid theft. For example, placing the personal property in the back yard, instead of the front yard, will likely reduce the carrier’s ability to argue that the loss falls under an exclusion for neglect.
Depending on the facts, the carrier may argue that the personal property was already destroyed by flood waters, or even that the damaged home was “under construction” and therefore excluded by the policy. The facts of each case will vary.
In summary, in the wake of a hurricane, policyholders should take a few steps to preserve their ability to be compensated for any theft:
- Make a record of any personal property placed outside of the house,
- take reasonable steps to secure the property, and
- file a claim if the personal property is stolen.