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November 24, 2004

Insuring Your Underground Storage Tanks

by Stuart Lieberman
Realty Times

You would not buy a car and fail to insure it, would you? You would not buy a home and not insure it? Indeed, anything that is expensive to replace needs to be insured.

And in the same light, you should not buy a home with an underground storage tank and not insure the tank against leakage. Why? Because tank leaks can be very expensive. While they often cost tens of thousands of dollars to address, some underground storage tank leaks have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I am talking about residential heating oil tanks, not retail gasoline underground storage tanks.

Yes, it is true that a leaking residential heating oil tank can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to remediate. It is not usually the case, but all of us in the business have seen this happen.

Which brings me back to the point of this article: You need to make sure that your homeowners insurance policy covers you in the event that you have a leaking tank.

And that is becoming an increasingly difficult task. Many homeowner insurance companies are attempting to exempt leaking underground storage tanks from coverage. You need to read your policy and see whether or not leaking underground tanks, or damage stemming from leaking underground storage tanks, are covered.

I can tell you that homeowner insurance policies are not the easiest thing to read. Have your agent point out the language that ensures coverage if there is a tank leak. If you are not familiar with insurance policy language, let your broker help you. He or she is paid to provide you with this service.

I had a client come to the office who was actually told that he should purchase a certain company's insurance policy for his home because that company does not exclude coverage for underground storage tanks. But guess what, there was an exclusion in the policy. While that homeowner may have purchased a lawsuit, who wants a lawsuit?

If the insurance company that you use no longer covers underground tanks, see whether a rider can be purchased. Sometimes riders are available just for this kind of coverage and sometimes they are not all that expensive.

And if your company does neither, then look for another company. This is simply too expensive of a risk to go uninsured. Yet, many people are uninsured and do not even have a clue.

Some states allow heating oil retailers to sell products that are designed to address leaking tank problems. Beware that these products can be very limited in scope. They do not usually replace the need to also have homeowners tank insurance. However, they are often inexpensive and provide a nice supplement to a homeowner policy.

Leaking tank problems can be devastating. Usually they are not, but they can be. You need to make sure that you are adequately insured. It is that simple. Ask the right questions and know exactly what you are purchasing.