SonomaCountyRecovers: Official recovery information for Sonoma County fires

Debris Insurance

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Debris Insurance Collection Process

The County of Sonoma has received Cost Reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) for each property that participated in the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program after the October 2017 wildfires that destroyed 5,300 homes in the County.

The County is required by CalOES/FEMA to handle the collection of any available private property insurance proceeds identified as coverage for debris removal. By participating in the Program, property owners assigned their debris removal insurance proceeds to the County. The County will collect and turn over debris removal coverage proceeds to CalOES/FEMA. Property owners may reduce the amount owed by submitting documentation for a range of additional debris related expenses and other circumstances related to rebuilding or buying a replacement home.

Based on the Cost Reports, the County is preparing invoices and sending them to the insurance companies with policy holders who lost homes, and requesting information about related coverage amounts and any available debris removal proceeds. The County is sending each property owner an email with a personal link to an online account that contains documents related to the debris removal process, including the invoice and their Right of Entry form.

More information about the Debris Insurance Collection Process, including FAQs, forms to submit and how to contact Office of Recovery and Resiliency staff, is available in the directory at left.

Set Aside Insurance Claim Funds Designated for Debris Removal

  • If you have homeowner’s insurance, and receive a check for your dwelling claim coverages – depending on your policy – this may include an amount designated for debris removal.
  • In coordination with state and federal agencies, the County of Sonoma will work with you to collect the amount specified for debris removal in your insurance.
  • In the meantime, do not spend any funds from your insurance claim payment that are specified for debris removal for other rebuilding activities.
  • It is important to consult with your insurance provider to be certain of your policy and coverages for debris removal.

Save Your Receipts for Any Private Debris Removal Work

  • Some residential properties may require private debris removal for burnt trees, outbuildings under 120 square feet, or other areas not included in the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program.
  • Insurance claim funds specified for debris removal can be used to cover those costs.
  • It is important that you save your receipts for any private debris removal costs.
  • The County of Sonoma will only collect reimbursement for the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program if there are any debris removal funds left unspent in your insurance coverage after you have completed the private removal.
  • You will need to provide your receipts to the County for verification of the private removal work.

California Department of Insurance Resources

Homeowners’ (HO) insurance policies cover costs for debris removal in a few different ways. You should consult your specific insurance policy to determine how debris removal benefits are paid. An Insurance Fact Sheet from the California Department of Insurance explains different coverages and the two typical kinds of Homeowners’ Insurance.  The department’s Top Tips for Wildfire Claimants also offers advice to those who lost their homes in the fires.

For more information on the debris removal insurance collection process, click below:

In exchange for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assisting the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma (County) with debris removal following the October 2017 wildfires through the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program, the County is responsible for collecting information from participating property owners to determine whether any insurance proceeds designated for debris removal need to be collected by the County to help offset the cost of the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program. Federal law prohibits a duplication of benefits (see question #2), and the County is obligated to ensure that duplications do not occur. Insurance policies vary, and the County does not play a role in adjusting or settling any insurance claims for debris removal. Other than conducting random internal audits as part of the County’s due diligence, the County is not obligated to independently verify or investigate paperwork provided by property owners in support of any reimbursement requests. Other than possible follow-up letters, at this time the County does not anticipate any additional activities to facilitate property owners’ payment of insurance proceeds to CalOES/FEMA.

 

Duplication of benefits refers to assistance from more than one source that is used for the same activity. In this instance, a duplication of benefits would occur if a property is cleared by FEMA and the property owner was paid by their insurance company for the removal of that debris (the same activity). A duplication of benefits would not occur if FEMA cleared a property and the owner paid expenses to complete the debris removal and the owner was paid insurance funds for the additional expenses.

You should work with your insurance company to determine the available insurance funds that are designated for debris removal coverage in your policy. These funds are referred to as “debris removal designated insurance.” If you need additional assistance, you can contact the California Department of Insurance (800-927-4357; http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/101-help/index.cfm), United Policyholders (415-393-9990; http://uphelp.org) or Sonoma County Legal Aid, (707-542-1290; http://legalaidsc.org/) for assistance.

 

It depends how funds designated for debris removal are handled in your policy. You should consult with your insurance carrier to determine these amounts and how and when they are paid (see question #3). Generally, homeowner policies provide debris removal coverage in one of two ways:

  • Specified or Separate Amount: Some policies include debris removal insurance coverage in a separate, specified debris clause. Such policies may provide a specific dollar amount or provide debris removal coverage as a percentage of the other coverage limits listed in the policy (for example, 5% of the policy limits for the primary structure, other structures, and/or personal property). In this case, the County will only collect up to the specified amount designated in the debris removal clause. You will not owe the County any additional money, even if the actual costs to remove the debris exceed the amount designated in your insurance policy for debris removal.
  • No Specified Amount: Another type of debris removal insurance coverage does not have a specified amount but includes the costs of debris removal in the total insurance proceeds provided for the primary structure and/or other structure, or personal property. If you have this type of policy, the County will only attempt to collect insurance proceeds for debris removal after you have rebuilt your home. The County will only collect money that remains in your insurance policy for debris removal, if any, after the rebuild is complete or you have purchased a replacement home. If you spend all of your insurance proceeds rebuilding or on the purchase of a replacement home, you will owe nothing for the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program.

No. The only money the County will collect on behalf of the State and Federal government is insurance proceeds designated for debris removal, less any offsetting expenses (see question #6).

 

You may use your insurance proceeds to cover expenses for work related to additional debris removal, or for repairs required on your property resulting from the debris removal process (offsetting expenses). You should submit documentation supporting your additional expenses (see Instructions at https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/). If there are any designated debris removal insurance funds remaining after you are paid for your offsetting expenses, that balance would be due to CalOES/FEMA. Qualified expenses could include any of the following:

  • Expenses incurred by a property owner to remove additional debris from their parcel that was not included in the government-sponsored debris removal program.
  • Burned tree removal.
  • Expenses used to remedy over-excavation issues as a result of the government-sponsored debris removal program.
  • Expenses used to repair property that was damaged as a result of the government-sponsored debris removal program.

Be prepared to submit documentation and receipts to the County if you seek to offset the amount of the cost report (see Instructions at https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/).

The County has received a cost report from CalOES/FEMA that is a breakdown of charges for debris removal per parcel. Based on the information in the cost report, the County has prepared a per-parcel invoice to submit to every insurance company and copied to every property owner. The information in the cost notice is identical to the information in the invoice.

 

The County is invoicing all insurance companies based on cost reports received from CalOES/FEMA for each individual property, and all property owners will get a copy. In addition, the County is requesting insurance companies provide the following information for each policy that insured a property that participated in the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program: A copy of the policy and/or declarations page and the amount in the policy dedicated for debris removal coverage (see Question #3).

 

The County is requesting that one of three forms be submitted by every property owner. The following information should assist you in determining which form is appropriate for your circumstance.

Reimbursement Form. This form is to be completed and submitted by property owners requesting reimbursement for all or a portion of the debris related insurance money that was paid to the County. In addition to the Reimbursement Form, documentation and receipts for the necessary work should be submitted (photographs, invoices, statements, cancelled check, etc.).

Withholding Form. This form is to be completed and submitted by property owners who have received debris related insurance money, incurred offsetting expenses, and are not turning over to the County the full amount of the debris related insurance money. In addition to the Withholding Form, any statement from your insurance company verifying the amount of debris related insurance money paid to you, and documentation and receipts for the necessary work should be submitted (photographs, invoices, statements, cancelled check, etc.).I

Insured Statement. This statement is to be submitted by all other property owners who are turning over debris related insurance money to the County and not submitting a Reimbursement Form or a Withholding Form. Property owners who are turning their entire debris related insurance money to the County should submit an Insured Statement with their payment. Property owners who are retaining their debris related insurance money until a later date should submit an Insured Statement. (NOTE: The Withholding Form is to be used when the property owner does not intend to make payment to the County at any time, and as a result of further necessary debris-related work on their property. The property owner who is deferring payment to the County to a later date should use the Insured Statement, and include language that he/she will contact the County at a later date to reconcile any possible debris-related insurance money that could be due to CalOES/FEMA.

The County has prepared sample language (see Insured Statement) for some (but not all) of the different scenarios where a property owner would or would not pay their debris related insurance money. All property owners may use their own phrasing rather than the samples provided.

The Withholding Form, Request for Reimbursement Form, and the Insured Statement all contain language that the property owner has not received a duplication of benefits (see question #2) and that the statements contained in the document are true and correct and the property owner understands the County is relying on the truth and accuracy of the statement.

 

If your insurance policy allows debris removal designated insurance funds be used for your rebuild or the purchase of a replacement home, you do not owe anything until your rebuild or purchase is complete.

If your insurance policy has a specified amount for debris removal designated insurance funds, you do not owe anything until you have completed your property’s debris removal (including trees) and/or completed any repairs to your property caused by the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program.

Yes, but only to the extent that insurance funds remain after your rebuild is complete or you have purchased a replacement home. All insurance carriers will receive an invoice for CalOES/FEMA’s costs, with a copy to property owners. If your insurance policy allows debris removal insurance funds be used for your rebuild or the purchase of a replacement home, you do not owe anything until your rebuild or purchase is complete.

Generally, yes. You should sign and submit a Request for Reimbursement form (see Instructions at https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/). The County may issue you a check for an amount up to the amount received from the insurance company. When your rebuild or purchase is complete, you should contact the County to reconcile any remaining debris removal insurance funds. If there are no debris removal insurance funds remaining after your rebuild or purchase is complete, you will owe nothing to CalOES/FEMA.

 

Your insurance company will receive an invoice for CalOES/FEMA’s debris removal costs, with a copy to you. If you received such a letter from CalOES/FEMA and incurred expenses to resolve debris removal issue(s), you my be reimbursed by your insurance company or the County out of your debris removal insurance proceeds. If there are unused debris removal insurance funds after you are reimbursed, the County will collect that money to pass on to CalOES/FEMA. If there are no debris removal insurance funds remaining after you are reimbursed, you will owe nothing to CalOES/FEMA.

Once you receive a copy of the invoice, you should submit an Insured Statement acknowledging these facts, and stating that you will contact the County upon confirmation that you have no additional debris removal work necessary nor any repairs necessary as a result of the debris removal process and reconcile any possible unused debris removal insurance funds to be passed on to CalOES/FEMA. (See Instructions at www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/.)

You will be notified when the County receives debris removal designated insurance funds from your insurance company. At that time, you will have the opportunity to submit a Request for Reimbursement form, documentation and receipts for privately incurred debris removal work and/or repair costs for property damaged during the debris removal, at which time the County can issue you a reimbursement check. (See Instructions at www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/.)

If the check is made payable to you and the County of Sonoma, you should endorse the check and submit it to the County at the below address, and the County will pass on funds to CalOES/FEMA. If you incurred eligible offsetting expenses to resolve debris removal issues, submit all supporting documentation and receipts with your check. The County will deposit the check and can issue a reimbursement check to you for those documented offsetting expenses.

If the check is made out to you, you may either:

(1) Deposit the check into your bank account and write the County a check, or

(2) Endorse the check over to the County. If you incurred eligible offsetting expenses to resolve debris removal issues, submit all documentation and receipts with the check. If you have endorsed the check over to the County, the County will deposit the check and can issue a reimbursement check to you for those documented offsetting expenses.

NOTE: If the check is made out to two parties as “Jane and John Doe,” both parties must endorse the check over to the County. If the check is made out to two parties as “Jane or John Doe,” either party can endorse the check over to the County.

Checks should be delivered or mailed to:

County of Sonoma
Debris Removal Insurance Reimbursement
575 Administration Dr., Rm. 104-A
PO Box 14310
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

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