The County of Sonoma’s debris insurance collection program has suspended in-person appointments in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to protect employees and the community.
Staff are working remotely as part of the county’s steps to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Staff are checking email and available to talk on the phone during normal business hours.
Property owners who wish to talk with staff about the debris removal insurance collection process can make an appointment for a phone interview. In-person meetings are not being scheduled at this time.
The county is required by the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) or by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to handle the collection of any available private property insurance proceeds identified as coverage for debris removal. By participating in the program, property owners assigned their debris removal insurance proceeds to the county. The county will collect and turn over debris removal coverage proceeds to CalOES or FEMA. Property owners may reduce the amount owed if they incurred costs for debris removal that was not included in the state’s program provided the removal is a covered expense under the category of insurance that paid the debris removal proceeds. Property owners will be required to submit documentation for any offsetting debris removal expenses.
The county will receive cost reports from CalOES for each property that participated in the government-sponsored debris removal program after the 2020 wildfires. The county anticipates receiving the cost reports sometime in the Fall of 2021. Upon receipt of the cost reports, the County will generate invoices for each parcel and provide copies to property owners and their insurance company identified in the Right-of-Entry form. In addition, the county will request information from insurance carriers about related coverage limits.
In the case of the 2017 fires, the County of Sonoma has received cost reports from FEMA for each property that participated in the government-sponsored debris removal program. The County of Sonoma sent invoices to the insurance companies with policy holders who lost homes. County staff also sent each property owner an email with a personal link to an online account that contains documents related to the debris removal process, including the invoice and their Right of Entry form.
More information about the debris insurance collection process, including FAQs, forms to submit and how to contact county staff, is available below.
Frequently Asked Questions
If my property is damaged by the debris removal contractors, may I use my debris removal insurance proceeds to make repairs?
If the category of your policy that pays the debris removal expenses allows for tree and/or vegetation removal, then the expense is an allowable offsetting cost. However, if your policy has a separate provision for trees, vegetation and/or landscaping, property owners may not be able to be reimbursed for tree/vegetation removal out of other portions of their policy unless is permitted within the policy. Before requesting reimbursement or withholding any amounts from your debris removal insurance proceeds for tree or vegetation removal, contact your adjuster to ascertain whether such activity is an allowable expense within the policy. To receive reimbursement, or withhold insurance funds, the County will require property owners to affirmatively state that the out-of-pocket expenses you are claiming are allowed under your policy.
If I receive debris removal designated insurance funds from my insurance company after the county sends out invoices, what should I do?
If the check is made payable to you and the County of Sonoma, you should endorse the check and submit it to the county at the below address, and the county will pass on funds to CalOES. If you incurred eligible offsetting expenses for additional debris removal, submit all supporting documentation and receipts with your check. The county will deposit the check and can issue a reimbursement check to you for all qualifying offsetting expenses.
If the check is made out to you, you may either:
- Deposit the check into your bank account and write the county a check, or
- Endorse the check over to the county. If you incurred eligible offsetting expenses to resolve debris removal issues, submit all documentation and receipts with the check. If you have endorsed the check over to the county, the county will deposit the check and can issue a reimbursement check to you for those documented qualifying offsetting expenses.
Note: If the check is made out to two parties as “Jane and John Doe,” both parties must endorse the check over to the county. If the check is made out to two parties as “Jane or John Doe,” either party can endorse the check over to the county.
Checks should be delivered or mailed to:
County of Sonoma
Debris Removal Insurance Reimbursement
575 Administration Dr., Rm. 104-A
PO Box 14310
Santa Rosa, CA 95402
My insurance company won’t release debris removal designated insurance funds until they get an invoice. If they pay the county directly and I have qualified offsetting debris removal expenses, how will that be handled? Will the county write me a check?
You will be notified when the county receives debris removal designated insurance funds from your insurance company. At that time, you will have the opportunity to submit a request for reimbursement form, documentation and receipts for privately incurred debris removal work, at which time the county can issue you a reimbursement check.
I have received all available insurance money from my policy, and I haven’t started rebuilding so I don’t know what other debris removal expenses I may incur. When I get the invoice, when will payment be expected?
Once you receive a copy of the invoice, you should submit an insured statement acknowledging these facts, and stating that you will contact the county upon confirmation that you have no additional debris removal work necessary on your parcel and reconcile any possible unused debris removal insurance funds to be passed on to CalOES.
If my policy does not specify an amount for debris removal, will you still seek to collect CalOES’s debris removal costs from my insurance carrier or from me?
Yes, but only to the extent that insurance funds remain after your rebuild is complete or you have purchased a replacement home. All insurance carriers will receive an invoice for CalOES’s costs, with a copy to property owners.
If my insurance company has already paid me debris removal insurance funds, and I receive the county’s invoice, when is payment due?
If your insurance policy has a specified amount for debris removal designated insurance funds (either a specific dollar amount or a percentage of your coverage), your payment is due once you have completed all the debris removal on your property.
If your insurance company does not have a specified amount for debris removal insurance funds, you do not owe anything until you have completed your property’s rebuild.
The county is requesting that at least one of three forms be submitted by every property owner. The following information should assist you in determining which form is appropriate for your circumstance.
This form is to be completed and submitted by property owners requesting reimbursement for all or a portion of the debris-related insurance money that was paid to the county. In addition to the reimbursement form, any statement from your insurance company verifying the amount of debris related insurance money paid to you, authorization that the expenses are eligible under the category of insurance, and documentation and receipts for the qualifying work should be submitted (photographs, invoices, statements, cancelled check, etc.). You should also submit an insured statement explaining in detail the circumstances of the necessity of the additional debris removal.
This form is to be completed and submitted by property owners who have received debris-related insurance money, incurred eligible offsetting expenses, and are not turning over to the county the full amount of the debris related insurance money. In addition to the withholding form, any statement from your insurance company verifying the amount of debris-related insurance money paid to you, authorization that the expenses are eligible under the category of insurance, and documentation and receipts for the qualifying work should be submitted (photographs, invoices, statements, cancelled check, etc.). You should also submit an insured statement explaining in detail the circumstances of the necessity of the additional debris removal.
This statement is to be submitted by all other property owners who are turning over debris-related insurance money to the county and not submitting a reimbursement form or a withholding form. Property owners who are turning their entire debris-related insurance money to the county should submit an insured statement with their payment. Property owners who are retaining their debris-related insurance money until a later date should submit an insured statement indicating the amount of debris insurance payments and the reason for retaining the funds. (NOTE: The withholding form is to be used when the property owner does not intend to make payment to the county at any time. The property owner who is deferring payment to the county to a later date should use the insured statement, and include language that he/she will contact the county at a later date to reconcile any possible debris-related insurance money that could be due to CalOES.
The withholding form, request for reimbursement form and the insured statement all contain language that the property owner has not received a duplication of benefits and that the statements contained in the document are true and correct and the property owner understands the county is relying on the truth and accuracy of the statement. In addition, the withholding and reimbursement forms state that the activity for which the funds are requested/withheld is an allowable expense under the category of insurance that paid the debris removal funds.
I heard the county is contacting my insurance company for information. What information is the county requesting from my carrier?
The county will invoice all insurance companies based on cost reports received from CalOES for each individual property, and all property owners will get a copy. In addition, the county will request insurance companies provide the following information for each policy that insured a property that participated in the government-sponsored debris removal program: A copy of the policy, declarations page and the amount in each policy category dedicated for debris removal coverage.
The county will receive a cost report from CalOES that is a breakdown of charges for debris removal per parcel. Based on the information in the cost report, the county will prepare a per-parcel invoice to submit to every insurance company and property owner. The information in the cost notice is identical to the information in the invoice.
You may use your insurance proceeds to cover expenses for work related to additional debris removal provided the activity which the costs were incurred was otherwise covered by the policy category (eligible offsetting expenses). If you incur an expense for which your policy would not pay, then the county cannot serve as another insurer and pay you money from the policy which would not have otherwise covered the expense. For example, your policy must allow you to use your dwelling debris removal for the removal of burned trees in order for you to be reimbursed for that expense. You should submit documentation supporting your additional expenses and authority under your policy for those expenses. If there are any designated debris removal insurance funds remaining after you are paid for your eligible offsetting expenses, that balance would be due to CalOES.
Be prepared to submit documentation and receipts to the county if you seek to offset the amount of the cost report.
If CalOES’s costs exceed my insurance coverage for debris removal, will I be required to pay the difference?
No. The only money the county will collect on behalf of the state government is insurance proceeds designated for debris removal, less any offsetting expenses.
It depends how funds designated for debris removal are handled in your policy. You should consult with your insurance carrier to determine these amounts and how and when they are paid (see question #3). Generally, homeowner policies provide debris removal coverage in one of two ways:
- Specified or Separate Amount: Some policies include debris removal insurance coverage in a separate, specified debris clause. Some policies include debris removal insurance coverage within a coverage, and if the loss exceeds the amount of coverage, an additional benefit (for example 5%) is available. Generally, debris coverage is available in the following categories of insurance: dwelling, accessory dwelling, contents, and vegetation. In any case, the county will only collect up to the amount of debris insurance paid an insured. You will not owe the county any additional money, even if the actual costs to remove the debris exceeds the amount of insurance proceeds received.
- No Specified Amount: Another type of debris removal insurance coverage does not have a specified amount but includes the costs of debris removal in the total insurance proceeds provided for the primary structure and/or other structure, or personal property. If you have this type of policy, the county will only attempt to collect insurance proceeds for debris removal after you have rebuilt your home. The county will only collect money that remains in your insurance policy for debris removal, if any, after the rebuild is complete or you have purchased a replacement home. If you spend all of your insurance proceeds rebuilding or on the purchase of a replacement home, you will owe nothing for the government-sponsored debris removal program.
You should work with your insurance company to determine the available insurance funds that are designated for debris removal coverage in your policy. These funds are referred to as “debris removal designated insurance.” Many insurance companies pay its insureds for debris removal early in the claims process, prior to the county receiving the cost notices or issuing an invoice. Many debris removal insurance payments are lumped together with other coverage payouts. Property owners should ask their insurance adjuster
- Whether the insurance company will pay the County directly when it receives the invoice from the county;
- If payment is not at the time of receipt of invoice, when will debris removal payments be made;
- How much the payments will be; and
- What portions of their insurance policy the payments are made from.
If you need additional assistance, you can contact:
Duplication of benefits refers to assistance from more than one source that is used for the same activity. In this instance, a duplication of benefits would occur if a property is cleared by CalOES and the property owner was paid by their insurance company for the removal of that debris (the same activity) and retained the funds. A duplication of benefits would not occur if CalOES cleared a property and the owner received insurance proceeds for that activity and remitted those proceeds to CalOES.
In exchange for the State of California assisting the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma with debris removal following the 2020 wildfires through the government-sponsored debris removal program, the county is responsible for collecting information and insurance proceeds from participating property owners. Federal law prohibits a duplication of benefits (see above question), and the county is obligated to ensure that duplications do not occur. Insurance policies vary, and the county does not play a role in adjusting or settling any insurance claims for debris removal. Other than conducting random internal audits as part of the county’s due diligence, the county is not obligated to independently verify or investigate paperwork provided by property owners in support of any reimbursement requests.