Q: Six months ago, the house next to me was being renovated, and their seawall was being replaced. Somehow, in the process, the contractor damaged my four year old seawall, and the earth just behind the seawall is subsiding. There’s a chance that the foundation of my house could also be damaged. The house next door has a new owner, the previous owner says they’re not responsible, and the contractor who did the job won’t return my calls. HELP!

A: We’d have to see your policy, but you should be covered for the damages done to your property, both under your homeowner’s policy and the contractor’s insurance. You may need more legal advice than insurance advice, but here’s a breakdown of insurance, permits, and what it means to the parties involved.

First, let’s look at a homeowner’s policy. This policy is divided into several parts as follows:

  • Coverage A: Dwelling – this covers the house’s structure, from the chimney and roof beam down.
  • Coverage B: Other structures – this can include driveways, fences, swimming pools, sheds, and even seawalls, unless those structures are specifically excluded in the policy.
  • Coverage C: Personal property – everything you own inside the house that is not part of the structure itself.
  • Coverage D: Loss of use/additional living expenses. Should your home be rendered uninhabitable, you can be covered for additional expenses incurred by obtaining another place to live while your home is repaired or rebuilt.
  • Coverage E: Personal liability. Personal liability covers the property owner from property damage or bodily injury, to themselves or to a third party arising from a covered risk. If the property damage or injury occurs before or after the policy period, the insurance company is not obligated to pay, or defend the claim or case.

The fact of the matter is that damage occurred to your home as a result of work being done on the home next door, and not through your negligence or actions. If seawalls are covered in your policy, repairs and replacement should be covered. Moreover, if the previous homeowner had a homeowner’s policy in place during the time of damage, the damage to a third party’s property would be covered.

Now, there’s also the matter of the contractor.

  • The contractor performing the work must be licensed under Florida law. Marine work is considered a specialty, and contractors are required to carry a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance and $25,000 in property damage insurance against damage to the homeowner’s or to a neighbor’s property.
  • If a property owner elects to use an unlicensed or uninsured contractor, then they are responsible for obtaining coverage and maintaining records for inspection. The person contracting the work is also responsible for making sure that the contractor has all the appropriate licenses and insurance under state and federal law.
  • The property owner is responsible for obtaining permits for the work to be done.

We need to see your policy and get to work on a claim so that you can repair your sea wall right away, and let the insurance companies slug it out without soaking you.