Expect rain, protect your house

With heavy downpour once again expected across the country this winter, short-term insurers need to urge homeowners to secure boundary and retaining walls to avoid the risk of any collapse, as a result of instability.

How will home renovations affect your clients’ insurance?

When renovating a house it is important to remember that any poor workmanship or a lack of regular maintenance could increase the risks of boundary and retaining walls collapsing. Clients need to know that this could lead to any insurance claims being rejected. During the winter months, there is often an increase in insurance claims for boundary and retaining walls, usually as a result of a combination of negligence and instability caused by heavy rain.

It’s not uncommon for boundary and retaining walls to collapse following periods of heavy rain, however, cover for these types of claims is not always guaranteed. Depending on the insurer, there may be limitations imposed on these types of claims, with some insurers requiring a report from a structural engineer to ensure that the wall was built to specification before a claim can be considered. Insurers need to tell their clients about these limitations.

An example of a limitation that most insurers include in their policies is that they do not provide cover for retaining or boundary walls claims which are as a result of subsidence (sinking), landslip or ground heave.

How does my client protect a wall from collapsing?

Insurers must urge their client not to be complacent and to maintaining their walls regularly. Most insurers require homeowners to maintain their property and keep it in a good condition, including checking their boundary and retaining walls for any roots or weeds that could potentially cause cracks in a wall or create any instability.

As an example, storm damage to a retaining wall that has collapsed due to extensive root and shrub development may not be paid out by the insurer. Claims similar to these could be rejected by some insurers, or only part of the claim paid out, due to the proximate cause of the loss, such as root development and poor construction being excluded in the terms of the policy. Make sure your client knows what is expected of them in terms of maintenance.

What other risks should my client be aware of?

Another common problem homeowners encounter is damage caused as a result of soil pile-up against a wall. A boundary wall is not designed to withstand pressure caused by the build-up of soil from either side, which could result in the wall leaning and ultimately collapsing. Added to this, if the wall has not been built to engineers’ specifications and the use of inferior quality materials or poor workmanship is evident, it is not uncommon for the wall to collapse following periods of rain.

In coastal regions specifically, it is common that walls and gate columns gradually start sloping due to the original foundation of the of wall not being built deep enough or not properly installed to withstand the forces of nature. There are recognised methods used to design foundations at the crest of coastal dunes and unless such guidelines have been followed, there is a good possibility that problems may occur and walls collapsing as a result.

It is of utmost importance that homeowners properly build and maintain boundary and retaining walls to avoid any financial loss as a result of claim rejections in the event of a wall collapsing. Insurers and clients should be in constant dialogue about possible disasters.

Christelle Fourie