News and Trends

MUA Insurance

With heavy downpours expected across the country this winter, homeowners are urged to secure boundary and retaining walls to avoid the risk of any collapse, as a result of instability. HL spoke to MUA Insurance’s Managing Director Christelle Fourie about the complications. How do home renovations affect your insurance? When renovating your house it is important to remember that any poor workmanship or lack of regular maintenance could increase the risks of boundary and retaining walls collapsing. This could also lead to any insurance claims being rejected. During the winter months, there is often an increase in insurance claims for boundary and retaining walls, usually as a result of a combination of negligence and instability caused by heavy rain. It’s not uncommon for boundary and retaining walls to collapse following periods of heavy rain, however, cover for these types of claims is not always guaranteed. Depending on your insurer, there may be limitations imposed on these types of claims, with some insurers requiring a report from a structural engineer to ensure that the wall was built to specification before a claim can be considered. An example of a limitation that most insurers include in their policies is that they do not provide cover for retaining or boundary walls claims that are as a result of subsidence (sinking), landslip or ground heave. How do I protect a wall from collapsing? Don’t be complacent by not regularly maintaining your walls. Most insurers require homeowners to maintain their property and keep it in a good condition, including checking their boundary and retaining walls for any roots or weeds that could potentially cause cracks in a wall or create any instability. As an example, storm damage to a retaining wall that has collapsed due to extensive root and shrub development may not be paid out by the insurer. Claims similar to these could be rejected by some insurers, or only part of the claim paid out, due to the proximate cause of the loss, such as root development and poor construction being excluded in the terms of the policy. What other risks should I look out for? Another common problem homeowners encounter is damage caused as a result of soil pile-up against a wall. A boundary wall is not designed to withstand pressure caused by the build-up of soil from either side, which could result in the wall leaning and ultimately collapsing. Added to this, if the wall has not been built to engineers’ specifications and the use of inferior quality materials or poor workmanship is evident, it is not uncommon for the wall to collapse following periods of rain. In coastal regions specifically, it is common that walls and gate columns gradually start sloping due to the original foundation of the of wall not being built deep enough or not properly installed to withstand the forces of nature. There are recognised methods used to design foundations at the crest of coastal dunes and unless such guidelines have been followed, there is a good possibility that problems may occur and walls can collapse as a result. It is of utmost importance that homeowners build and maintain boundary and retaining walls properly to avoid any financial loss as a result of claim rejections. Interviewed by Katharyn Williams-Jaftha