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'My Home Is Still Uninhabitable': 10 Months After Winter Storm Some Texans Still Waiting On Insurance Claims

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Ten months after their homes were damaged from February's winter storm, thousands of Texans are still waiting on their insurance to get repairs done.

"My home is still uninhabitable," said Terry Gilg whose Dallas condo flooded when the fire sprinkler pipes froze, then busted.

Gilg is one of several condo owners at The Parks on Travis Condos in Dallas who say they have been out of their homes since the deep freeze while waiting on the condo's insurance to pay for repairs.

"I think the hardest part is the emotional toll of not having a home," Gilg said. "I don't think the insurance companies think about that when they just put everyone on hold."

The condo residents said their insurer has not denied their claim, but it has not approved it either.

"I think that's the most frustrating part. They haven't said we're wrong," said Andrew Siers who also has been unable to move back into his condo since the winter storm. "I expected this to be much more straightforward and simpler than it ended up being."

The condo owners' insurer, Community Association Underwriters, did not responded to the CBS 11 I-Team questions about the delay.

A Texas Department of Insurance spokesperson said the agency did not find a violation of insurance law after investigating a complaint filed by the condo owners.

More than 400,000 Texas homeowners filed an insurance claim for damages caused by the historic winter storm, according to TDI records.

The average number of days to close these claims was 31.4 days. As of June 30, 2021, 8.5% of the claims remained open.

Texas law requires insurance companies to pay claims within 60 days of receiving all necessary information from the homeowner, but consumer advocates say it is often hard to hold insurance companies accountable.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed an insurance bill, dubbed as both the "Hailstorm Bill" and the "Blue Tarp Bill."

Supporters said the bill was aimed at preventing abusive lawsuits, including the practice of suing an insurance company before even filing a claim.

However, critics said the law has also discouraged insurance companies from paying out claims quickly by reducing the penalty on late payments.

House Bill 1774 lowered the interest penalty on insurers for delayed payments from 18% to a floating rate of +5% above market interest rates.

"This is really a manmade catastrophe on top of these natural catastrophes," said Ware Wendell, Executive Director of Texas Watch, a nonpartisan advocacy group that works to hold insurance companies accountable to their customers.

Wendell said he believes this law is the reason many Texans are still waiting on their insurance companies to close claims from February's winter storm.

A spokesperson for the Texas Insurance Council disagreed.

He said, "Companies are still subject to a significant penalty interest and the new law does not give companies an incentive to delay payments."

How long do insurance companies have to close a claim in Texas?

- 15 days (30 days for surplus lines) to acknowledge receiving a claim and request information about the loss

- Another 15 days to accept or reject the claim once the company has all required information about the loss

- 5 days (20 days for surplus lines) to issue payment if the claim is accepted.

TDI said delays can happen when there are disputes about the coverage, amount of loss, or terms of the policy.

Top 5 consumer tips for insurance claims (source: Texas Watch)

1. REPORT YOUR CLAIM IMMEDIATELY - Some policies may have quick reporting deadlines for storm damage. As soon as you discover damage, it is important to contact your insurance company and report the claim. Document every communication you have with them.

2. READ YOUR POLICY - Make sure you locate your insurance policy and take the time to read it and any endorsements, which are amendments that change the policy language. If you don't have your policy handy, ask your agent to send you a complete copy and any endorsements.

3. DOCUMENT ALL DAMAGE - Survey your property, if it is safe to do so, and take photos of the damage and surrounding areas. If a plumber removes a portion of your burst pipe, save that part or any other damaged pieces so the insurance company can see it.

4. SAVE RECEIPTS - If you must purchase supplies to make any temporary repairs, or if you have to stay in a hotel because you are displaced from your home, save your receipts in case your policy covers these expenses.

5. BE THERE FOR THE INSPECTION - When the insurance adjuster arrives to look at your property, make sure you are present so you can point out all damage.

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