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Insurance fight over house cracks caused by heatwave

Recent heatwaves brought reports across France of houses developing cracks due to heat-induced subsidence.

This follows other heatwaves and droughts, notably in 2003 and 2017, and has highlighted the complicated system for claims under the catastrophe naturelle insurance process.

There have been cases of home-owners having to wait up to a decade before getting the go-ahead from insurers to start work on structural damage.

Now the French senate has published a report on the system after a review by a commission, with 55 ideas for improvement.

Senator Nicole Bonnefoy, who  presented the commission’s report, said: “The climate is changing and we are seeing the effects in more natural catastrophe incidents than before.

“Whether due to floods, hailstorms or houses being cracked because of drought and heatwaves, claims are up and we need to do something about it.

“There are many who, because they are not in communes deemed by the experts to have been affected, have been left with nothing and, as things stand, face years of uncertainty.”

Gérard Manem, who is part of an association for householders whose properties have been effected by drought in Charente, said:  “It is a complicated procedure and it can leave people tearing their hair out.”

He said if any local resident asks to have the commune declared a site of natural catastrophe, the mayor has to act. “There is a standard form to fill out and take to the mairie and he or she forwards it on.”

Mr Manem and his wife Dominique found cracks in their house in Angoulême during the heatwave of 2017.

They called in builders, who said the problems were caused by the clay soil contracting due to drought, and it would cost €100,000 to repair the damage.It took until October 2018 for the state to declare a catastrophe naturelle in their commune.

Under the rules they then had just 10 days to declare to their insurers that they were affected.

“Lots of people here have clay soil and lots of requests went in at the same time, so insurers were swamped. Getting experts to give their reports takes time,” said Mr Manem. “We are expecting it will be another two years before work can start.”

In the meantime, the couple have to put up with cracks in the outside wall, in the staircase and their tiled floor.

“In hot and dry spells, you hear the house creaking and sometimes we think we might have to move out,” he said.

One Connexion reader said she and her husband had to pay €30,000 to have their house underpinned after heatwave-related subsidence.

“The mairie did not want to do anything and it was urgent so we had no choice,” she said.

Another reader, Margaret Ager, who lives in Poitiers, said she and husband Charles found a crack in the outside wall of their 30-year-old bungalow last winter, after a dry summer.

“When it got bigger, we called a builder, who said it was subsidence caused by the drought, and we should start the catas-trophe naturelle procedure.

“There were lots of people in this area affected, which is not surprising as we are all built on the same clay soil,” she said.

The mairie and their insurers in Poitiers were helpful in supplying information about what was needed, and the couple put in their request for the area to be declared a catastrophe naturelle because of drought in May.

“It will be August or September at the earliest,” said Mrs Ager. “We are just left hanging to dry while the bureaucrats take their time.”

The commission’s 55 recommendations include reform of the catastrophe naturelle system. It also calls for storm insurance to be compulsory for farms, orchards and vineyards.

Senator Bonnefoy said some regulations could be changed through simple government orders, while others will need a change in the law.

A full debate is due to be held on the subject in the Senate in September or October.

“My impression is the government has taken stock of the situation and is aware of the problem,” she said. “Whether that translates to action, we will see.”

See this link for a previous article about making natural disaster claims.

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