Following a fire, most experience inconveniences and temporary changes to their lifestyle. Insurance policies should be checked and insurance agents should be asked coverage of living expenses, as property may not longer be suitable to live in. Insurance companies usually base this decision upon the safety factors listed below:
Fire can cause structural damage to roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors. Fire department personnel will contact the city building department if significant damage has occurred. The building department will conduct an inspection to assess the extent of the damage and determine which permits are required to make the necessary repairs.
Doors and windows may have been damaged or broken. Firefighters may have cut a ventilation hole in the roof to remove heat and smoke inside the structure.
Fire department personnel may have shut off utilities to the property, including electricity, natural gas and water. The utilities cannot be turned on until the city building department has issued a clearance.
The residual smoke and odor from burned material may be toxic and hazardous to human health.
Insurance companies and insurance policies vary considerably. The following is general information on what to do after a fire.
Insured homeowners should contact their insurance company. An insurance adjuster should be helpful in making necessary immediate repairs and with securing one's property. Policy holders unable to contact their insurance may want to contact a licensed contractor for immediate repairs in order to secure the home. Refer to the yellow pages under “General Contractor” or “Fire and Water Damage Restoration Contractors.”
Renters must contact the property owner or manager. The owner's insurance will be utilized for the structural repairs. Renter's insurance most likely covers personal items damaged inside the structure. The owner's policy may also include a renter's package to cover the tenant's personal items.
Do not throw away any damaged possessions until an inventory has been made. Damage inventories are very important in developing an insurance claim. Pictures and receipts of damaged property are also very helpful.
It is always a good idea to periodically take pictures of each room in the house and place these in a secure place outside the home (e.g., a bank safety deposit box or at a relative’s home). Pictures of personal property before the fire can then be compared with those after the fire.
Pursuant to State law, if property incurred damage of $5,000 or more in a fire, homeowners may be eligible for property tax relief. An application must be filed with the San Diego County Assessor's Office at 619-505-6262 within six months.
In addition, uninsured property, or if insurance does not cover losses, please contact a tax specialist or the Internal Revenue Service for assistance. Request publication #547 "Tax Information on Disasters, Casualty Losses and Thefts" to see if property qualifies for casualty loss.