4. House Insurance Claims in France
4.1. Claims Procedure
There is no particular procedure for making a claim, although time limits apply.
A visit to the agent or a telephone call to the insurer needs to be followed up in writing with details of the claim.
If you make the claim in writing send it by recorded delivery letter (lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception) to avoid the risk that the insurance company later deny ever receiving the claim.
While a local insurance agent is permitted by law to accept receipt of an insurance claim by one of their clients, this is not necessarily the case with a broker.
So if you deposit your claim with your local broker and they are negligent in transmitting it to the insurer, you may lose your right to claim on the policy.
All of this is important because there are time-limits set down for making a claim.
These time-limits depend on the nature of the claim.
Unless otherwise provided in your insurance policy it is two days for theft and five days for most other claims.
The clock starts the day after the incident occurred.
Nevertheless, should you be tardy in making your claim it would not necessarily be refused by your insurer, except perhaps where the delay had a material impact on the level of the claim.
There is a special procedure for natural disasters (catastrophes naturelles) where the claim period is ten days after publication of official decision. We say more about the claim procedure for natural disasters below.
4.2. Theft Claims
In the event of a theft ((vol)) it is important you report the incident to the police, who will provide you with a receipt of your report.
You should then send the incident report and the claim to your insurer by recorded delivery within time limits stated in insurance policy.
You need to state clearly the items stolen, with evidence of ownership if at all possible, and an estimate of their value.
Make sure you keep receipts or photos of items as proof of ownership, as the insurance company are likely to insist you provide satisfactory evidence. We published an article about this issue, which you can read at Theft and Insurance Claims.
In the event of burglary, possessions within the house will always be covered by your insurer, although are likely to be specific exclusions concerning valuable items such as antiques and jewellery. You can read more about this issue in our Guide to Insurance of Valuable Objects
Those effects outside of the property are not automatically included, so when you take out your policy you need to question the insurer on the cover being offered to possessions in a barn or shed or in the garden.
Insurance cover will not apply where an item is merely ‘lost’, or where there is no evidence of burglary. Thus, if you left the door open and something went missing, do not expect the insurer to pay out. Neither will it apply where theft is by a member of the family.
A claim may also be rejected if the property is left empty for over a certain period.
This period may be 90 days, depending on the terms of the contract. It may not be a continuous number of days. Thus, if the property is regularly left empty for periods of three or more days, the cover might not apply. You need to read the policy.
This clearly poses a real problem for those who have a second home in France for which you will require a specific insurance policy.
4.3. Damage Claims
In the event of a claim for damage (sinistre) to your property resulting say from a fire or water leak or storm damage, you normally need to make a claim direct to head office within five days by recorded delivery, with a copy to the local agent. Check you insurance policy for the claim period.
As soon as possible afterwards send an estimate of cost of loss, with evidence of ownership.
Insurance companies have their own definition of what they consider to be a 'storm', but it normally requires high winds in excess of 100kph recorded at a nearby weather station.
Where the storm is exceptional, and accompanied by flooding, then it may be declared a natural disaster (called catastrophe naturelle) for which there is a distinct procedure that applies.
4.4. Natural Disasters (Catastrophes Naturelles)
Your French house insurance policy will cover you for damage caused to your property through a ‘natural disaster’ such as a drought, avalanche, earthquake, or flooding.
There are specific rules that govern the operation of the catastrophe naturelle clause in French house insurance policies.
Not all major climatic incidents are a catastrophe naturelle, and if it is not, your insurance policy will specify the terms on which you are covered for storm, flooding or other similar damage.
Under an agreement with the French insurance companies dating back to the 1980s, the relevant clause for a natural disaster in your contract is only triggered if the government makes an official declaration of catastrophe naturelle for your commune.
Normally, a decision about catastrophe naturelle as a result of extensive flooding (inondation) is fairly straightforward. Indeed, the scale of the storms which occurred throughout most of France in 1999, were such that the Government decided it was politically necessary to declare the whole country 'catastrophe naturelle'!
Incidents of ground movement due to drought (sécheresse) are sometimes less evident and the whole process for getting compensation can be more difficult. This is because the insurance company will want to satisfy itself that the cause of the cracks in your home were caused by the drought and that the problem is severe enough to warrant remedial works. There can often be disagreement about the extent of the remedial works that are necessary.
Often the initial problems start with the local town hall whose responsibility it is to kick things off by making an application to the regional prefecture for the commune to be declared catastrophe naturelle. Many local mayors are assiduous in this task, but this is not always the case and, if no application is made, then that is the end of the matter.
So, if cracks appear in your house that you believe is due to ground movement arising from a drought, make sure you inform your local mairie so they can compile a dossier.
Once the application is lodged with the prefecture, it should eventually find its way to Paris where no less a body than a committee of Ministers will deliberate on whether or not a declaration should be made. The decision should normally be made within three months of submission of the demand by the prefecture, but the process can take longer if the government considers that the expert investigation needs more time to complete their work.
If the government judges favourably then, and only then, are insurance companies liable to pay compensation for the damage that has been caused.
But you need to be quick, as you only have 10 days from the publication date of the official legal notice (arrête) from the prefecture to make a claim to your insurance company.
Send the claim by recorded delivery.
If they are doing their job properly then your mairie will send a notice around to all residents; others may just post a notice on the town hall.
Once again, therefore, you need to be vigilant or (particularly if it is a second home) request the mairie to notify you when word of the decision is received by them.
Needless to say, even if you do manage to get your claim in on time, there still remains the need to convince the insurance company that there is a link between the cracks in your house and the drought, and then to ensure you receive proper compensation for the damage.
If the problem is a serious one, then it would be prudent to engage your own architect or engineer from the outset, as they can then can represent you in negotiations with the insurance company.
Some insurance policies allow clients to appoint their own expert, paid for in part or whole by the insurance company itself, but this is normally only triggered where you disagree with the assessment made by the expert witness appointed by the insurer.
The insurance company is required to provide at least partial compensation within two months of submission of the estimate of works, or the declaration of the natural disaster, if this occurs after you submitted the estimate for remedial works.
There is an excess (franchise) of €1,520 for ground movement claims, which can rise to €6,000, depending on the number of previous catastrophes naturelles of the same nature which have been declared in the commune and whether or not the commune has in place a risk prevention plan (Plan de Prévention des Risques (PPR). The excess is €380 for other types of claims.
The policy will also only cover the direct consequences of the natural disaster, so the costs, for instance, of temporary accommodation will not be covered by the clause. Similarly, if you only have third party cover on your car, it will not be covered damage caused by a natural disaster. Garden produce and plants are not normally covered.
You might be interested to read our Guide to Risk Prevention Plans in France,, as these plans will inform you about the risks in your area, and the constraints on construction.
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