Evacuated? Head to a Hotel. You're Covered.

Last Updated Aug 31, 2009 5:12 PM EDT

Wildfires rage out of control, displacing hundreds.
The Los Angeles fire has hundreds of homeowners fleeing their flame-threatened homes under mandatory evacuations. While the bulk of evacuees will head to the homes of friends, relatives and high school gymnasiums turned into temporary shelters, you should know that your homeowners insurance policy would cover the cost of staying in a hotel.

California insurance regulations demand that all homeowners policies cover temporary living expenses if you have been ousted from your home by authorities in a declared state of emergency, said Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network in Los Angeles. You do not have to lose your home for this coverage to kick in. In fact, the requirements for "loss of use" or "additional living expense" coverage have been met for many Southern California homeowners, who have been told to leave their homes by fire personnel, she said.

The only issue is your deductible, which will determine how much of these expenses must be paid out of your own pocket before the insurance coverage kicks in.

Can you stay in a nice hotel if you have been ordered to evacuate? Yes, said Miller. Check with your agent to be sure, but "additional living expense" coverage generally is not subject to daily expense caps, she said. The monetary caps that are imposed typically are figured as a percentage of your overall policy value--such as half of the face value of the policy. (In other words, if you have a $500,000 homeowners insurance policy, the additional living expense coverage might amount to $250,000.) This coverage would pay to put you up in a home of equal value for up to 24 months, if you lost your home in an insured disaster.

It's also worth noting that if your home is damaged, but not destroyed--even if the damage is mainly from smoke and ash--you may also have a legitimate claim, she said.

For those fleeing their home without the phone number of their agent, the Insurance Information Network has a directory of insurance company claims numbers posted on their web site.

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