IF YOUR home is damaged by freak weather the first question to ask is whether it was due to tempête (storm) or catastrophe naturelle (natural disaster), as insurance claims are different for the two.
A natural disaster covers naturally-occurring floods, landslides and earthquakes and it must be declared as such by ministerial decree determining the time and area concerned and the kind of damage.
Insurance for storms, on the other hand, would include tiles blown off, trees falling on your property etc.
In a very violent storm both might come into play - damage from flooding from water running off the surface of the ground or raised river or groundwater could be a natural disaster, while damage by the wind would come under storm cover.
Stéphane Pénet, a director of the French Federation of Insurance Companies said: “It is often hard for people to understand why a storm is not a ‘natural disaster’ - obviously it is one, but it is not legally defined as such for insurance. This is because insurers decided that such damage was an insurable risk without the state having to give a guarantee.”
In the event of a natural disaster your mairie will have details of when the decree was made - you have ten days to declare damage to your insurer. All typical home insurance policies (assurance multirisques habitation) include a garantie catastrophe naturelle.
Such policies are required for renting and most owner-occupiers also have one.
When claiming for natural disasters there is always a franchise (excess) - ie. a part that is not reimbursed. This amounts to the first €380 on damage to a home and contents, though the rules allow for this to be increased where there have been other recent similar disasters and the commune has not put a prevention plan in place.
Pumping, cleaning and disinfecting are all covered. You will need to keep damaged items to show the loss adjustor and collect proof of damage - photos, receipts etc.
For your garantie tempêtes (storm cover) to apply you have even less time to make a declaration - five days from the time when it is considered you should have been aware of it (some firms require this be by recorded delivery).
If you were away then this will be from the date of your return, though in the case of damage caused by highly-publicised storms it may be argued you should have known.
Exceptionally, in the case of the storms that hit the south-west last winter most insurance companies extended their deadlines.
When claiming under either cover you should give the insurer an estimate as soon as possible - they will send a loss-adjustor in the case of large claims.
Storm cover is for both the building and contents, but there are often deductions for vétusté (wear and tear). The franchise is usually no more than the one for natural disasters.
Before having work done get estimates and have them agreed by the insurance firm. Some home insurance policies will also cover your costs if you have to live away from home for a period - this is called garantie frais de relogement.
Second home owners who do not use an agent to look after their home would need to come to France or delegate responsibility to a local friend to deal with insurers on their behalf by letter, email or fax.