How a Homeowner Insurance Policy Works After a Big Storm

11/16/2012, 2:50 p.m.

There are things about your homeowner's insurance that you don't want to learn only after a storm. Take the time to get familiar with your coverage before the next big storm.

For instance, a tree falls in your yard: Are you covered? That all depends.

Under certain circumstances, homeowner's insurance will pay for tree removal and debris cleanup. There is generally a cap of $500 or $1,000 per tree or shrub, depending on the insurer and the type of policy. However, if the fallen tree causes no damage to a house, garage or fence, then homeowner's insurance doesn't cover it.

Does it matter who owns the tree? It usually does not. In a storm, trees and branches can become projectiles capable of traveling significant distances and causing considerable damage. In most cases, an insurance company is not going to spend time trying to figure out where the tree came from.

Sometimes, if the tree was on a neighbor's property, the insurance company may try to collect from the neighbor's insurance company. This sometimes occurs if the tree was dying and you notified your neighbor in writing that the tree could present a risk to your home during a storm.

You should regularly review your coverage with your insurance company to reflect improvements. Your policy, for instance, may cap coverage for structures other than your home, such as a detached garage.

Check to see how you're covered for typical storm damage:

Wind damage to the roof or water that enters through an opening created by the storm may be covered if your interior is damaged. The roof may be damaged by blown shingles.

What is definitely not covered is flood damage.

You will need to contact the National Flood Insurance Program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For further information, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency at floodsmart.gov.

Scam Alert: The DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking reminds you to avoid contractor scams.

After a storm, these scammers sometimes canvas neighborhoods looking to take advantage of distressed homeowners. Protect your investment with these tips:

* Obtain bids from more than one contractor and request at least three references from each. .

* Ask for each contractor's license number, which is registered with the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

* Record the contractor's license plate and driver's license number, then check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

* Be wary of contractors who demand payment for repairs before starting the job. The contractor should provide an itemized estimate of the repairs including material and labor charges. Remember the rule of thirds: One third at the start of the project, one third when it is halfway done and the final third after completion. Avoid contractors that require you to get the permits.

If you need information on financial matters or to report abuse, email the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking at disbcomplaints@dc.gov ,go to www.disb@dc.gov or call (202) 727-8000.