When you pay home insurance premiums you, expect the insurer to be there when you need it most. We have learned some insurance companies will not cover state and federally required lead and asbestos testing and remediation. It’s something state insurance commissioner says he can’t do anything about it.
A plumbing issues left Kenny and Leslie Stocker’s 1908 home a big wet mess.
“We ended up having a leak in the toilet of the upstairs bathroom, and it trashed the bathroom and it trashed a good majority of the ceiling in the kitchen,” recalled Kenny.
But before the couple could rebuild, they had to test their home for lead and asbestos.
“That was paramount for us. We have animals we have children and it was in an area where we make food. We wanted to make sure it was going to be taken care of correctly,” Kenny told me.
It’s more than paramount. It’s the law. Lead and asbestos affects more than 120,000 of Seattle’s 150,000 homes. Homes built before 1978 must be tested for lead before contractors repair or renovation. Anything built before 1981 is presumed to have asbestos and anything after that date must be evaluated for asbestos materials. But the Stocker’s learned their insurance company wouldn’t cover the testing nor the remediation of those pollutants.
“This is a law. How can you not cover something that’s the law? And they would never really address that,” questioned Kenny.
The insurer would only say it’s not part of the policy. Meanwhile, the testing cost the Stokers more than $5,000. Leslie couldn’t believe this is how they were going to be treated after two decades with the same company.
“I was so angry. And I think a lot of it was that we had been with this company for 20 years paying premiums. It seemed ridiculous and they were a brick wall,” she exclaimed.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler understands the Stocker’s dilemma.
“Insurance isn’t always fair, and in this case it isn’t,” said Kreidler.
Kreidler said to think of health insurance when it comes to dealing with lead and asbestos.
“If you have asbestos and you have lead in the paint because it’s an older house that’s kind of considered kind of like a pre-existing condition,” he explained. “It’s something insurance companies go to great lengths to make sure they’re not paying for stuff in addition to what they have to pay for.”
Check your home insurance policy and look for exclusions. It will say in black and white that the insurer will not cover for loss to test for, monitor, clean up, remove contain, treat detoxify or neutralize the effects of pollutants. Pollutants is a term often used to describe asbestos and lead.
Kenny and Leslie dried out their home and rebuilt their kitchen and bathroom but want to make sure other homeowners open and read their policies before they get soaked.
“You should know that going in very specifically. And if it’s not covered you need to find another insurance company,” said Kenny.
This is a message from the Northwest Insurance Council –
Thanks for KIRO 7 TV’s report on asbestos/lead testing and homeowners insurance policies.
As you’ve noted, the great majority of standard homeowners insurance policies offered across the nation, including here in Washington, specifically exclude coverage for testing properties for the existence of lead or asbestos (or other toxic materials). The language appears in most homeowners policies (referred to in the industry as “HO-3” policies) under property exclusions. Homeowners policies typically do not include coverage to test for, clean up or remove toxic or other pollutants (which are defined in the exclusion section).
Asbestos, lead and other unseen hazards can be costly to mitigate. And for insurers as well as homeowners, it is possible (particularly in older homes) for generations of owners of the same property to be unaware of the existence of these conditions in the home. As you can imagine, it would be costly for consumers if insurers “guessed” about the possible existence of pollutants in a home and routinely included the cost of asbestos testing and/or removal in the price of a standard HO policy.
Your story points out why it is so important for people to have a better-than-basic understanding of what their insurance policy covers and what it does not cover. It may be possible for property owners to find coverage in the market for some risks not covered by a standard policy, but too often, consumers find out “too late” what their policy contains – or what it excludes.
NW Insurance Council urges consumers to review their policies regularly – at least once each year, or whenever there are changes in your household. Contact your insurance agent or company to schedule a review.
Kenton Brine President
NW Insurance Council