Harvey Hit Home

Hurricane Harvey hit home for our family. In addition to flood damage to our home, our two cars sustained water damage.  Because we live on a canal that arguably has salt water content, the automobile insurance company decided to declare my car a total loss under the comprehensive policy. However, the total value of the claim they offered to settle is far less than for what the car could have been sold.

Now we have two issues to resolve: First is to determine if the car is indeed a total loss, and if so, the second is upon an agreed value. In a total loss scenario, you have to 1) forfeit the title and physically turnover the vehicle. The insurance company wants you to hand over the signed title which will be forever recorded as a complete loss. Once you accept the money and turnover the title (all of which requires your signature), the car will be picked up by a wrecker, towed to a salvage lot and auctioned to the highest bidder.  2) Just because the insurance company offers a token value for your car doesn’t mean that you must accept it.  You can negotiate to come to an agreed value! Some people take better care of their cars than others. The value depends upon the mileage, maintenance history, accident damage history, and other variables.  For example, was the car garaged (or under a car cover); was it frequently waxed and regularly driven; was the oil regularly changed, and the maintenance schedule followed. The region of the country in which the car resided also makes a difference. An exotic high-performance car may be valued higher in New York or Los Angeles than it would be in a remote town in the desert. The appraised value is calculated based upon what the same car is selling for in your area.

For us, the water damage was more extensive because salt water is more corrosive then fresh water. Note: the quicker you can service a water-damaged car, the better.  However, this usually requires renting a car while yours is in the shop.  In our case, due to the high demand for car rentals, all the units were booked and we are on a waiting list.

SALVAGED CAR BUY BACK

You can buy the car back from the insurance company for salvage value. We have to think about this.  Our car still drives well, but it’s having more and more electrical issues.

Hurricane Harvey has created numerous complicated issues that people need help with. I HAVE BEEN THERE not only during Harvey, but also during Hurricane Ike in 2008. You should be aware that there are many alternatives to resolve claim issues.  If you need my help, call me at 281-557-9200.

Hurricane Harvey Insurance Claim Tips

WHAT TO DO FIRST

  • Take pictures, pictures and more pictures. With a video camera you can narrate where you acquired the items in case you can’t produce receipts. Remember that although they may have special memories important to you, it’s a material item and you may have to find a way to disassociate yourself emotionally from those memories for the purpose of your insurance flood claim.
  • With digital photography, you can take as many pictures as possible and choose the best ones to use. Today’s memory devices have virtually unlimited storage so don’t be shy about taking pictures.
  • Have a video camera trained on the entrance so that every item that is removed from the property is documented.
  • Use a still camera picture to help document each item claimed. When you prepare your claim you can attach a JPG image  file to support each item claimed.
  • Many items are heirlooms with sentimental value but the standard the insurance companies are looking for is replacement cost.
  • Go online to find and document the value. Printout the published price. The more documentation you have the stronger your claim.

HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIMS

If your flood damage is caused by water already on the premises such as from a plumbing problem, it is a homeowners insurance claim rather than a flood insurance claim. Flood insurance applies to surface water such as rain storms, tidal surges, and hurricanes.

WINDSTORM CLAIMS

In Texas, wind storm damages are covered by TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association). In a Hurricane, there are frequently two parts to the claims process: 1) the flood insurance (which is a Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) activity, and; 2) damage caused by windstorms such as broken windows, torn-off roofs.

Fallen trees, on the other hand, are typically caused by storm damage and are usually covered by homeowner’s policies.

AUTOMOBILE FLOOD CLAIMS

In general, automobile flood damage claims are covered by automobile policies. The Comprehensive part of your auto policy usually covers the flood claim, but always ask your agent.

Automobile flood claims are filed with your auto policy even if they were in your garage when they were flooded.

 

Epidural Injections and Nerve Root Blocks

Pain management has rapidly become a growing specialty area of medicine. So many of us suffer from lower back (lumbar) and upper back and neck (cervical) disk issues. The nerve pain associated with these degenerative issues are frequently treated with epidural steroid injections and nerve blocking techniques.  Although these procedures provide welcome relief, they come with risks.  One of the risks are “Missed Target” where the injection misses its mark and can traumatize the nerve roots causing traumatic neuropathy, a painful lifelong condition all its own. Even worse, a missed target on nerve root blocks can end up injecting a “cain” such as Lidocaine directly into an artery such as a vertebral artery. This type of missed target can have devastating consequence as the sending the agent directly to the brain resulting in paralysis and mental incapacity.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Criminal cases are handled very differently depending on the nature of the crime, the political climate, the county, the judge, and the prosecuting attorney. In a large Texas community, such as Harris County, the local bar is large, and the players are constantly changing, so that this is not much of an issue.  However, when it comes to outlying counties, one has to be aware that there may be long-established relationships within the “good ole” local talent.  So when there is a significant civil or criminal case, especially in outlying counties, it frequently helps for the “big guns” to engage local talent as co-counsel to deal with the prejudicial challenges.

Marbella Dispute in Limbo

The Marbella power line dispute is in limbo. A tentative settlement was negotiated to remove the overhead power lines and bury most them over the months ahead pursuant to a negotiated timetable. Although most of the clients perceive this as a victory, until the work is actually completed, William Brown, LLC considers this a stalling tactic to quiet the media and appease the residents. The best news, in our opinion, is that the practice, by officials, of overlooking the League City ordinances has now come under scrutiny. The result is that the offenders responsible for granting the variance that opened this can of worms have been removed. The League City Council has also drafted new statutes and policies affecting these practices to prevent this travesty from happening again. We will revisit this issue to monitor compliance with the terms of the agreement as the matter develops.

William A. Brown, LLC, Represents Residents of Mar Bella Development in League City, Texas

William A. Brown, LLC, is now representing residents and buyers, in the new community of Mar Bella in League City, Texas, who are at odds with the developers for installing unsightly overhead power lines instead of buried power lines as was represented to the buyers, and required by local ordinance.

Mar Bella, a resort town on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain, is the namesake of this attractive new real-estate development League City, Texas, with beautiful homes, a first-rate school district and scenic views of water features.  It is a short hop from Galveston Bay, the Galveston beaches, the Kemah Boardwalk and all of the other trapping of the good life in Texas.

To maintain the beauty of the environment, the master plan of this community included buried electrical power lines to each and every home, and for most of the community, this is what happened.  But now there is a problem because the developers have reneged on their commitment to bury the power lines, and have instead began planting unsightly telephone poles with above-ground wires to furnish electricity to the homes of the final phases of the development.

As you approach this oasis in the Texas coastal region and drive through the entrance, it is truly breathtaking.  But then, as you meander around to the eastern side, you find these enormous, unsightly, black telephone poles dripping with creosote, planted right on the property of the home owners. The above-ground power lines and poles have dramatically affected the picturesque views and consequently, the property values.

The residents of Mar Bella are angry. The environment of their dream homes have been defaced and the developer is pushing back indicating essentially that if the affected residents don’t support the change to above-ground power lines, they won’t have power at all. As one can imagine, the residents are shattered. They want what they bargained for, what was agreed to, what the ordnance demanded, and what they expected.

As representatives of residents and buyers in the affected community, we at William A. Brown, LLC, are determined to help them get the beautiful, safe and secure environment that they are proud to call home.

International Probate Matters

No matter where you live, when you pass, your property needs to transfer to the heirs that you intended. If there is no other legal mechanism in place, such as a Living Trust, the transfer will typically be handled in probate court. But then the question is, where is probate opened to establish the authority to effect such transfers?

In a recent case, a decedent who was a former resident of Galveston County, Texas, had remarried and was living as an expatriate in a foreign country with a spouse who is a citizen of that county. The spouse had an interesting question to resolve: where is the probate jurisdiction?

To allow probate to be opened in Texas, it is important to establish as many ties to the Texas community as possible, hopefully including some form of real property. There is provision of the Texas Estates Code that affords the local probate court the authority to open an estate in this kind of situation.

Something to consider is that a Living Trust eliminates probate, and in a case such as this international one, the transfer of property becomes a non-issue.

HOA’s and the SRL Project

The SRL program is very thorough about taking care of all of the approvals necessary for a turnkey project. There is one exception that can fall through the cracks and that is dealing with the local homeowners association.

Homeowners associations in Texas are not an official governmental entity and they lack authority of building codes that legitimate governments enjoy. That is not to say that they can’t or won’t make trouble in their attempts to enforce their deed restrictions nor does it mean that they do not serve a useful purpose. Granted there are bona fide interests in keeping the community well kept, and maintaining the standards established for that particular neighborhood.  The homeowners association or HOA’s get their power from the deed restrictions that are recorded in the deed records of the respective county courthouse. When a buyer purchases a home within such a community, they are usually buying into the HOA as long as the deed restrictions for that community have not expired. These deed restrictions are usually renewed prior to expiration and if not, they lapse. Deed restrictions are especially useful in communities where there are no zoning laws. A very good example of this scenario is the Heights neighborhood found in Houston. When parts of that neighborhood allowed the deed restrictions to lapse, neighborhoods found commercial operations opening up next door to residences and that adversely affected the property values.

The SRL program qualified contractors take care of the permits required for the elevation or other flood mitigation work for the homes but usually do not have to deal with HOA’s. After all, these are government projects funded by FEMA through the Texas State Water Development Board, the County Office of Emergency Management, down to the local municipality.  In some instances, these projects are outside of a municipality and subject only to the County building codes. This sets the stage for the local home owners association to exercise the power that so often finds HOA directors salivating.  In the hands of an overzealous HOA director, the Architecture Control Committee Chairman tries to assert authority where they are wanting. There are many reasons for this including envy that their home did not qualify for the program and the ever present opportunity to endear themselves to their friends, and cut the legs out from under those outside of their circles.

HOAs do have a legitimate purpose but in the hands of an opportunist, the power can be abused. If you fight your HOA to some extent you are fighting yourself. A lawsuit against your HOA that results in expensive litigation and a significant judgment will be paid out of the dues or special assessment that comes in part from your own pocket. If you choose not to pay you HOA dues, they can and will sue and foreclose your property.

Do you have mold on your premises?

Mold is a big problem in the Gulf coast area especially with the humidity as high as it gets.  Many clients in the Houston & Galveston area complain of uncontrollable cough, wheezing, watery/stinging eyes, and headache resulting in bronchitis, pneumonia, COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Mold Assessment and Remediation Rules “TMARR” has codified the laws for practices and procedures, notification, complaints and many other aspects of mitigating mold infestation at home and in the workplace.

Mold Inspection Sciences is statewide outfit licensed to inspect and test you premises. They generate a thorough report to help answer your questions if you believe you have a mold problem.

FEMA Flood Map revisions

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) revises the flood maps from time to time and establishes the BFE (Base Flood Elevation) that directly establishes the premiums for flood insurance. The BFE for a particular property will determine whether a mortgage lender will require that the property must carry flood insurance coverage for any improvements on the premises. Following Hurricane IKE, the flood hazard maps (known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMs) for the Gulf Coast of Texas and other states underwent major revisions that continue to be reevaluated from time to time. These updated flood hazard maps (known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMs) and studies will allow communities and property owners to make more informed decisions about reducing their coastal flood risk. To help communities and individuals to understand their coastal flood risk even more, a new informational layer—the Limit of Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA)— are now be depicted on the FIRMs.

The effect of being in one zone verses another on the FIRMs can have a profound impact. It is not just a matter of how high above the BFE the living area of a house may be but if you are in a VE zone your property can not have reinforced concrete underneath it nor can there be enclosed space greater than 299 square feet (approximately enough for a one car garage.)  Your home may even carry a deed restriction recorded in the county deed records that precludes modifications in violation of such deed restriction. Although this change is still being considered in the Galveston County / Galveston Bay area, it has not yet been adopted.