Home Insurance Advice: Mudslides, Landslides, And Getting It All Covered


Q: “I’m reading the news about the Washington state mudslide and other than the obvious concerns (deaths, injuries, etc.), I’m curious about how much a disaster like this would cost in regards to the homes. Are mudslides covered by home insurance policies? What happens if I don’t have coverage and my home is affected by a mudslide? How can I disaster-proof my home in case of emergencies?” –Muddled Homeowner

A: Mudslides, which are a type of landslide, occur frequently in areas with harsh rains. The recent mudslide that affected Oso, Darrington, and Arlington, Washington has had devastating effects. As of Monday, March 31st, in the one-mile radius that the mudslide touched, 21 were found dead, 30 are still missing, and the cost of emergency response and debris removal is estimated to be $4.5 million (with the Washington state governor asking for more aid). The number of affected homes varies by report, ranging anywhere from 30 homes to 100 properties. Regardless of the toll, most homeowners affected by the mudslide will also be up to their ears in debt as less than five percent of homeowners in Washington have a separate landslide policy needed to replace a home in a disaster this large. So, landslides are not covered by a standard home insurance policy, and finding out if you need the additional coverage can be a little bit tricky. Here’s how to find out how much—if any—coverage you will need for a landslide.

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Covering Your Home

Typically, there is only one type of home insurance add-on that covers landslide damage, Muddled Homeowner. It is called a Difference in Condition policy. This policy, which costs about $1,000 annually for a home that costs $300,000, covers your home’s structure. The price of this coverage may vary, depending on where your home is located. If your home is, say, under or on top of a cliff, your Difference in Condition policy will cost more than a securer home. You can also acquire coverage for the contents of your home, but this is separate from a Difference in Condition policy. The special content rider also covers your home’s contents from earthquakes and flooding. However, not all insurance companies offer this coverage, so you might have to shop around to get this rider.

Where Coverage Is Necessary

The good news is: not all homes need landslide coverage. The bad news: many areas of the United States are susceptible to landslides, especially along the Pacific coast, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and the Northeastern United States. But how do you know if you need coverage? Learning if an area is landslide prone is easier than you think, Muddled Homeowner. Here are the telltale signs of landslide prone land:
  • A tongue-shape mass of sediment at the base of a slope
  • Irregular land surface at the base of a slope
  • Strips of exposed soil or rock on an otherwise vegetated slope
  • Steep slopes
  • Previous landslides have occurred on that land
It is also important to note that other natural disasters—like earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, and fires—can trigger landslides. So, if you live on a slope that is prone to any of these events, landslides might also occur.

SEE ALSO: Is Additional Insurance Coverage Worth It?

Disaster-Proofing Your Home

If you live in an area prone to landslides, there is not much you can do if a disaster is on its way. Two things that might help, though, are planting vegetation with deeply penetrating roots and monitoring small landslides on your property so you can prepare for a bigger one. Having a plan for family members also saves lives. If you are considering a home and wondering if it is landslide prone, there are a few things you should look for. For example, you should:
  • Get a geologic evaluation of the property
  • Avoid homes in dangerous areas, like the mouth of a valley or canyon
  • Find out if a landslide occurred previously in the area through a county geologist, the local authorities, or the country planning department
  • Look for cracks in the house’s walls and leaning retaining walls, or doors or windows that stick
  • Be wary of leaks in swimming pools or septic tanks, sagging or taut utility wires, trees or fences that tilt, and small springs on the property
  • Check the United States Geological Survey’s Landslide Overview Map
Natural disasters are impossible to prevent. But if we prepare for them and know exactly what we’re getting into, Muddled Homeowner, rebuilding and recovery will be much easier.

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