Rats, mice, gophers, and squirrels can do thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in damage to your house and lawn. Nearly every homeowner’s insurance policy contains a clause excluding gradual damage caused by rodents. But nearly every homeowner’s insurance policy will cover sudden and unexpected damage that is caused by rodents, or that results in the damage to your property by rodents after other sudden and unexpected damage to your home.
Typically the language in your policy will read something to the effect of “Unless the resulting loss is a Loss Not Insured, we will pay for accidental direct loss for” and then there is a reference to a list of causes of homeowner casualty such as windstorms, fires, tornadoes, and, if you purchase an appropriate rider or a separate specialized policy, earthquakes and floods.
Typically the homeowner reads this and says “Huh?”
We can’t give you legal advice here, but the question you need to ask your insurance agent or your attorney is whether you are covered for the consequences of insured losses.
Situations in Which Animals Increase an Insured Loss
For instance, a windstorm blows shingles off your roof, and then a family of squirrels takes up residence in your attic and their squirrely doo leaks through your ceiling tiles before you can get your roof repaired, your insurance company will probably pay for both the damage to your roof and to your ceiling. If a family of squirrels takes up residence in your attic and then a windstorm blows shingles off your attic, you will probably just get paid for the damage to your roof.
Similarly, if a windstorm blows your front door away, and a skunk wanders in and sprays your sofa, then your homeowner’s policy may replace your sofa, but not if you just leave the door open so the skunk wanders in.
Rodent Damage in a Single, Identifiable Event
Usually the fact that damage to your dwelling is caused by wildlife doesn’t make a difference it the damage occurs in a single, identifiable event. For instance, if a gopher tunnels under a gas line, a joint in the line fails, gas leaks, and your house catches on fire, your homeowner’s policy will pay. If the same gopher’s tunnel only causes a slow leak in the gas line and you smell gas for weeks without calling the gas company for repairs, however, your insurance company will not pay.
If squirrels get into your attic and gnaw through the pipes to your overhead sprinkler system for putting out fires and water leaks onto your furniture and carpet in a single flooding event, your homeowner’s policy will pay. If the same squirrels damage a pipe so that water drips through the ceiling for six months, chances are that your policy will not pay.
Coverage for Hidden Defects
There are also instances in which your homeowner’s coverage will pay your bills when damage from animals was undetected before you bought your house. For instance, if your home inspection before you bought your house failed to reveal that termites had eaten your floorboards, and one day your kitchen collapses into your basement, your homeowner’s policy will probably pay for the damage. If you did not have a home inspection, or if you ignored your home inspection, however, you probably won’t be covered.
Sometimes there is coverage for your damages that is not included in your homeowner’s policy. Suppose you had your house inspected before you purchased it, and the inspector missed a major defect, such as a sewer vent pipe opening in the attic rather than above the roof and admitting sewer rats into you house—hundreds and hundreds of sewer rats. Your homeowner’s policy might not pay, but the inspector’s professional liability policy just might. Do not hesitate to ask an attorney for advice for collecting major damages to your property that are not your fault.