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Do you need landslide insurance?

Windstorms, floods, earthquakes and wildfires usually come to mind when natural disasters are mentioned.Landslides, which we don’t talk about that often, cause $3.5 billion in property damage and kill 25 to 50 people every year in the U.S., according to Geology.com.

Many victims of landslides think their homeowner’s insurance policies have them covered, but they usually don’t. Landslides or land movement caused by rain runoff, snow melt, flooding and earthquakes aren’t covered by a typical homeowner’s insurance policy, according to the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Understanding how your insurance works is the first step in protecting your property before a landslide or another earth-related catastrophe strikes.

What to consider

If your home is on flat land, landslideyou don’t need to worry about landslide insurance. However, if you live above or below a steep slope, you should consider buying it. Also, if your home is in an area subject to heavy rain or snow, insuring for landslides is a smart move, says Karl Newman, president of the nonprofit NW Insurance Council. However, remember that some insurers may refuse to cover you if you live on a hillside.

Be sure to ask whether there’s a waiting period – often 15 days – after you apply for this specialized insurance, says Teresa Ponder, an attorney at California law firm Berger Kahn.

The Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner says you’ve got two options for landslide insurance:

1. Content coverage.

You can buy a special rider, or add-on, for your homeowner policy that covers your home’s contents in any disaster, including earth movement. This rider covers contents, not the structure. “Some insurance companies may not offer this option,” the Washington insurance regulator says, “so you may need to shop around.”

2.Earth movement coverage.

This coverage pays for damage to structures, such as your house or any unattached buildings on your property, in case of a landslide or other earth movement. Your insurance agent or broker may be able to get this coverage in what’s known as the “surplus lines” market. Providers of surplus lines coverage “insure risks the industry traditionally doesn't insure,” the Washington insurance regulator says.

Ponder warns that landslide policies can expire without notice, so be sure you keep on top of the situation so that you aren’t left without coverage.

Keep in mind that landslides do occur in all 50 states.

Landslide odds and ends

The accurate name for landslide insurance is “Difference in Conditions,” which also encompasses earthquakes and floods. For a $300,000 home, you likely would pay $1,000 or more a year for this type of coverage, Newman says.

By the way, a standard homeowner’s policy does cover your personal belongings if they are in your car and are damaged during a mudslide. Damage to the vehicle itself is covered by the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy. Comprehensive coverage is optional, but auto lenders normally require you to have it.

Protecting you and your family

Even with insurance, you’ll want to do what you can to prevent property damage and injury in the first place. The NW Insurance Council recommends the following:

  • Create a family evacuation plan.
  • Keep an emergency kit handy.
  • Recognize early warning signs of a landslide – like doors or windows that stick, cracks in plaster or bulging ground at the base of a slope.
  • Build retaining walls where needed.
  • Maintain an inventory of your household possessions.

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