NJ Insurance Adjusters Are In Short Supply After Ida –
Here’s What Homeowners Can Do
By Mary Chao
It felt like the end of her world for Clifton’s Maria De Lourdes Torres. In March, her husband of 40 years, Norman Chidiac, died of COVID-related complications.
Then came Hurricane Ida. The remnants of the storm flooded the basement of her Grove Street home and almost submerged the commercial building on Clifton Avenue that the 73-year-old had invested in with Chidiac, destroying a barbershop, law office and pharmacy.
“Everything was floating: attorneys’ desks, copiers,” she recalled through sobs in an interview.
Now, Torres says, her insurance claims are stuck in limbo, thanks to a shortage of adjusters to survey the damage. Despite several calls, her insurer hasn’t said when one will be available. Torres says she doesn’t know what to do with the mess Ida left behind.
With New Jersey declared a federal disaster zone after the wrath of Ida, many property owners are in the same boat: confused, with no idea how to proceed. Policyholders are learning their insurance may not cover damage from the flooding, depending on what was purchased, and the storm has insurance representatives working around the clock two weeks after it touched down in North Jersey.
“The biggest problem right now is insurance carriers are light on adjusters,” said Scott Wolff, a partner at Premier Risk Management and owner of Wolff Family Agency Allstate Insurance in Ho-Ho-Kus.
What property owners can do
Wolff advises property owners waiting for adjusters to take a lot of pictures of the storm’s impact while moving ahead to salvage a property. That likely means paying out of pocket first and seeking reimbursement later, he said.
Unless the property is in a flood zone, chances are there will be no flood coverage, as such insurance is not required, Wolff added.
Still, there are specific written policies that will cover water damage, said Sean Kelly, a partner at The Insurance Outfit in Chester.
If a homeowner has wind coverage and the roof blew off, causing leakage, then water damage will be covered. Damage caused by a backed-up sewer pipe or broken sump pump may also be reimbursed, Kelly added.
With much of northern and central New Jersey declared disaster zones, homeowners may qualify for federal grants and loans even without insurance, he said.
When it comes to pricing for remediation companies, it’s best to check with your insurance companies on whom to hire, Kelly said, to avoid contractors who prey on property owners during stressful times.
Ida was no longer considered a “named storm” when it hit New Jersey, as the wind fell below a 39-mph threshold. That could present an obstacle for some commercial policy holders who purchased hurricane insurance, said Nat Piro, a public adjuster at NFA in Nutley.
Piro, a public adjuster hired by property owners at about 10% of the recovery costs, advises people with damage to review the policy carefully and check the fine print.
The shortage in adjusters is caused by the spike in the number of cases, Wolff said, noting he has been busy answering questions from his own clients.
Torres found herself desperately trying to bail out the basement of her home all alone when the rains came the night of Sept. 1. The carpet and other personal items were ruined. The next morning, she arrived at the Clifton Avenue offices to find water sloshing around just a foot from the ceiling.
She’s still in a wait-and-see situation, reaching her insurance company but not getting the answers she needs. She weeps as she recalls the damage to the building her husband had poured his life into before dying at age 83.
“His life was work. He wasn’t interested in anything but working,” she said. “He never had much of a life at home.”
Grief-stricken, Torres says she’s praying for help.
“I will follow the Lord, because I need it,” she said. “I’m still here. I will do whatever he sends me.”