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If you’ve got teens in your life, it could happen to you. You wake up early in the morning and shuffle out to the porch, only to find your yard, trees, hedges, and rooftop covered in snowy white toilet paper. Add a good, hard frost, and you’ve got a royal mess.

That’s what happened to the Crausewell’s, in Dora, Alabama. The mother and her teenaged son spent the entire morning picking 2-ply tissue off the grass, trees, and house.

The Mistake

Everything was cleaning up nicely, except for the big magnolia in the front yard. So the Crausewell’s decided to try burning a square of the tissue with a lighter. The paper caught fire instantly, but instead of burning up the roll and into the tree, it broke away and landed on the grass. Fires started popping up and spreading all over the lawn, then the trees, then the propane tank in the back yard, and finally, the house.

The family worked quickly to evacuate their elderly relatives and a caregiver. Firefighters arrived, and hurried to contain the blaze. But it was too late. The Crausewell’s home of twelve years was a total loss.

Now, the happy news: Everyone is safe. The community has rallied to the family’s side with help and support and sympathy. And somewhere in Dora, AL, a few teenagers are carrying a pretty heavy load of guilt for what should have been an innocent night of mild-mannered mayhem.

So, Is That Covered?

The big question remains: Does homeowners insurance cover a house fire if it’s caused by the owner’s really bad TP cleanup methods?

Short answer: Yes, in most cases. This is not a case of arson, but of accident. It’s a lot like the claim you might have to file if you accidentally left a pot holder too close to the stove top. Not the brightest idea, but not heinous enough to get your claim thrown out.

The big risk in a case like this is not a claim denial; it’s getting dropped from coverage at the soonest opportunity, namely, renewal time. This is more common than many homeowners realize. If you file a claim that leads your insurance provider to suspect that you might be a bigger risk than they expected, you could find yourself without homeowners insurance when your contract ends, sometime this year.

Fraser Sherman reports for The Nest, “Not only can you lose your coverage if you make a claim, you may have a hard time finding a new policy. The Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange service makes your claims history available to other insurers, who can decide to write you off as a bad risk.” Even if you do manage to convince another insurer to give you a chance, you can probably expect higher premiums than you paid before the incident.

Unfair? It certainly can feel that way, especially if your house fire occurred through no fault of your own. However, insurance companies are in the business of risk management. They like to bet on the least likely disaster, and if you have already proven to be a bad luck magnet, the stakes get higher all around. It could be a tornado that scares your provider away, or a hurricane, burglary, or forest fire that causes your rates to spike.

What's a Homeowner to Do?

So what can you do to keep your coverage, and keep it affordable? Jim Davis, from the Texas Department of Insurance, says, when your provider gets skittish, ask for better treatment than you’re getting. “Your agent -- or even the insurance company itself -- may be able to move you into a more favorable slot.” Davis notes that it also pays to raise your deductible as high as you can afford. And shop around, because different carriers have different definitions of what constitutes a high risk.

This is where a local agent comes in handy, especially the independent kind who can shop around and go to bat for you. If the only agent you can get on the phone is an employee of your waffling insurance provider, he’s probably not in the best position to help you, and he may not even be motivated to do so. Local independent agents don’t advertise much, but they’re probably close by, and they’re free to contact just about any insurer on the books, to find the one who can cover you. Hopefully at a decent rate, too. Then when trouble strikes, you’ve already got someone in your corner, who isn’t on the insurer’s payroll.

The Crausewell’s will rebuild, minus some irreplaceable family heirlooms and photos. Their homeowners insurance will most likely cover the loss, because, thank goodness, insurance covers ill-advised TP cleanup methods. Let’s just hope they find an insurer to cover the new place. They might need that. You probably will, too. When that time comes, a Trusted Choice® agent can help.

Posted 12:47 PM

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