Posted On 09 Jun 2021
The Vermin Quandary
Recently, one of our agents waited for her vehicle to be serviced at a local car dealership. The service manager entered the waiting room with bad news for one of the other customers. Apparently, mice had chewed some of the wirings in her car and the repair would be costly. He continued, “Fear not, your homeowner’s policy will cover the cost.” Our agent felt obligated to intercede on behalf of the car owner and simply stated that homeowner’s policies do not cover rodent damage to your vehicle. This led to a rather heated debate. The dealership was forced to research rodent damage only to find they were wrong and they are not alone in their confusion.
Rodents are prevalent in our area and often hide away in cars, RV’s, and boats. They offer ideal protected nesting spots with an abundance of chewing material. Electrical wiring and upholstery are commonly damaged. Your auto insurance generally will cover rodent damage if you have comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive coverage (also known as “Other than Collision”) pays for things like hail damage, falling debris, and vandalism. However, some insurance companies exclude rodent damage in the comprehensive coverage. It is particular to each insurance company. If you are afforded the coverage, you are still required to pay your deductible.
Unfortunately, homeowners’ insurance does not cover rodent damage to your vehicle even if your vehicle is parked inside an attached garage.
Home insurance is much more complicated than vermin damage to your vehicle.
The definition of Vermin is below.
Vermin is defined by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as 1) any of a number of small animals with filthy, destructive, troublesome habits as flies, lice, bedbugs, mice, rats, and weasels; 2) any bird or animal that kills game; 3) (a) a person who is vile, worthless, or objectionable; (b) such persons collectively.
For insurance purposes:
- Animals considered vermin: rats, mice, squirrels, beavers, porcupines, chipmunks, guinea pigs, prairie dogs, marmots, woodchucks, cockroaches, flies, lice, bedbugs
- Animals not vermin: skunks, bats, possums, raccoons, rabbits (unless you live in Australia)
We receive many calls asking if there is coverage for removing vermin from their home and fixing the damage done by vermin. Typical inquiries include:
Will my insurance cover the removal of bats in my attic?
Will it pay for the removal of toxic guano left by the bats?
Will it pay to remove bees in my ceiling and walls?
Do I have coverage to pay for the removal of skunks that have nested under my garage and sprayed the structure?
I’ve discovered chewed electrical wiring in the attic. Is it covered?
Recently a client called after finding their seasonal home had been infested with mice over the past winter. The damage was extensive – two sofas and a chair were nesting sites and excrement covered the camp. In this case, the claim was denied!
Uninvited house guests can be a tricky situation no matter which species they belong to – but if the houseguests are insects or animals, the coverage on your home insurance policy can be tricky as well. Termites and other wood-boring insects might think your house is absolutely delicious or might view your home as a warm and wonderful place to build a nest. Animals have also been known to enter people’s homes, either for a short visit or to build a home of their own.
Let’s look at what’s covered, what’s not covered, and some of the concepts that determine coverage eligibility.
Coverage for termites and other insects
Termites are the biggest threat to homes when it comes to “vermin”, a broad category of pests that can cause extensive damage and are difficult to control. In many cases, damage due to vermin is not covered by a standard home insurance policy. In fact, damage due to termites is often specifically excluded from coverage. Very few species are mentioned by name in a home insurance policy but termites make the list. Insurers view termites and similar infestations as a maintenance issue, which makes policing for termites or similar types of vermin the homeowner’s responsibility.
Coverage for rodents, raccoons, squirrels, and other animals
Once we begin discussing pests that are larger than insects, some sorting into groups needs to take place to better understand your coverage. Rodents, like termites, are often specifically excluded from coverage on a standard home insurance policy, so let’s discuss rodents first.
Rats, mice, and even cute chipmunks and squirrels are all rodents and can create extensive damage in a home. In most cases, the physical damage caused by these little guys isn’t covered – nor is the cost of their removal if you choose to call in a pest control specialist to handle a rogue squirrel in the attic or a family of mice living in the pantry walls.
There are some isolated exceptions where an insurer may provide coverage for damage from rodents. For example, if a mouse chews through wires in your home, causing a fire, the fire damage is likely to be covered – however, there may still be some challenges. If you knew about the mouse, squirrel, chipmunk, etc., and didn’t take measures to remove the pests from your home, the insurer may deny coverage, deeming the damage to be due to a “lack of maintenance”.
Not all animals are rodents
Raccoons aren’t rodents, nor are bats, deer, bears, or some other types of animals that sometimes invite themselves into homes. Coverage may be limited in some cases, but coverage for these “non-rodent” guests is less limited than in the case of rodents or vermin. Many courts don’t consider raccoons or bats to be vermin, which are often excluded from coverage, but your insurer may feel differently and a claim due to damage from raccoons or bats may not be covered. Some policies also specifically exclude coverage for damage caused by raccoons and bats. In other cases, a bat infestation, for example, damage to structural items like attic insulation may be covered but the insurer may not cover the removal of the bat “guano” or the bats themselves, meaning there is only partial coverage.
More rural areas sometimes have larger visitors, like deer or even bears. If one of these animals enters your home and starts breaking things, coverage is mixed, meaning some of the damage may be covered while other items may not be covered. The distinction is due to the different coverage types in a standard home insurance policy and which risks are covered by each type of coverage.
“Coverage A” is coverage for the dwelling. This is the house and its attached structures. An eight-point buck running amok in your home can cause damage to the structure including damage to windows, doors, drywall, and similar vulnerable areas. On a standard (HO-3) home insurance policy, the dwelling is covered for all perils – except those that are specifically excluded. It’s unlikely that eight-point bucks are specifically excluded from your policy, so damage to the structure should be covered. “Coverage B”, other structures, usually covers the same risks as coverage A, so rogue-animal damage to other structures such as detached garages would be covered as well.
“Coverage C” is where you’re more likely to have exposure to a loss due to a rogue animal. Coverage C is coverage for personal property, your electronics, furnishings, etc. On most policies, coverage is limited to specifically named perils. You can bet that eight-point bucks aren’t on the list so if the deer breaks things other than the building structure, there probably won’t be covered. If the rogue deer knocked over a candle and started a fire, however, fire is a covered peril.
Most policies exclude all excrement caused by animals including scat, pee, and secretions.
Understanding sudden and accidental damage
There are certain phrases that appear commonly in most home insurance policies. “Sudden and accidental” is among the common phrases and is relevant to any discussion of damage caused by insects or animals. Home insurance isn’t intended to be a maintenance policy. The earliest home insurance policies only covered fires. That’s all. Newer policies are much broader in coverages but still focus coverage on the sudden damage that occurs accidentally.
Many of the ways in which vermin can damage a home aren’t sudden at all. A lightning strike is sudden (and it’s covered!) but a colony of insects or a family of mice living in your home will usually require quite a bit of time to cause significant damage. There should be some signs during that time and the best solution is to remedy the problem before any significant damage occurs.