Just because there are only four named hurricanes predicted for the 2016 hurricane season doesn’t mean commercial real estate owners can breathe easy.
The Weather Research Center estimates there’s a 70 percent chance a named storm will make landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast this year—and that’s just taking into account the named storms. Tropical weather systems without a name can arise without much warning.
“Our Cyclone Strike Index provides forecasts of the most probable landfall of where a tropical cyclone will occur during the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season,” said Jill Hasling, president of the Weather Research Center. “The west coast of Florida and Texas coastal areas have the highest risk of being impacted this year. And of key importance is that the Gulf of Mexico oil leases have a 90 percent chance of experiencing a named tropical cyclone.”
With these dire warnings in mind, GlobeSt.com, an ALM affiliate of the Daily Business Review, reached out to “hurricane lawyers” and accountants to get strategic advice for commercial real estate owners facing the possibility of massive storm damage. The key questions: What should you do before and after the storm?
David White, an attorney at Thompson & Knight in Dallas, said lawyers should review a client’s policies long before a storm hits to make sure the most likely risks are covered.
“Those risks include physical damage to the property and equipment; business interruption to cover lost profits while the company is getting back to normal operations; contingent business interruption or ‘service interruption’ if the company is shut down because utilities are cut off or crucial suppliers are interrupted,” White said. “Also ‘law and ordinance’ coverage if civil authorities order evacuation or restrict access to the property.”
Ryan Cassidy, a senior director at Franklin Street Insurance Services, said a property owner could be left paying a huge out-of-pocket expense without law and ordinance coverage.
“If a building was built in the ’70s and there have been multiple building code changes since then, there is potential for a total loss to leave the owner coming up short,”Cassidy said. “In this scenario, the insurance company would only pay for the cost to replace the old building to 1970 standards. However, it now needs to be built to 2016 standards, which leaves a large gap in coverage and oftentimes means hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses.”
All policies impose certain responsibilities on an insured in the event of a loss such as providing prompt notice, showing the damaged property and mitigating the damage, said attorney Gina Clausen Lozier, a Boca Raton associate with Berger Singerman and member of the firm’s dispute resolution team.
“Failing to comply with any one of these responsibilities can prejudice an insureds right to recovery,” she stressed. “It is crucial for a business owner to be familiar with the specific obligations of the insurance policy to avoid jeopardizing a claim from the outset and consulting with an insurance attorney can provide business owners with a roadmap for handling the initial claim stages.”
What about after a hurricane strikes? That’s when attorneys step in and help expedite a claim decision and avoid delay. Michael J. Higer, a Miami partner with Berger Singerman and a member of the firm’s dispute resolution team, said attorneys can also assist in compiling documents responsive to an insurance company’s request to make sure claim forms are submitted properly, as well as working with the insurance company to obtain advanced payment to resume operations as soon as possible following a hurricane.
“Additionally,” he said, “if the insurance company denies or underpays the claim, an insurance attorney can advise of the available remedies to seek proper coverage and compensation for an insured’s losses.”
CPAs play a role in helping commercial real estate owners weather storms. Amy Landry, a loss control engineer at Risk Strategies Co., said accountants can help clients make sure the values insured for each building are sufficient to replace the property in today’s construction cost environment.
“Accountants can review rental income and time element exposures and values to ensure their property policy reflects current and projected budgets,” Landry said. “Accountants may look to include extended period of indemnity coverage in the property policy that covers a reduction in income for an extended period of time even after damaged property has been repaired or replaced.”
Landry also points to client relations as part of the equation. Accountants can assess any customer and supplier contingencies that may impact the revenue stream even if an owner’s or developer’s property is not damaged or destroyed.
“One thing accountants could advise is to have a reserve fund,” said Mary Ann Jordan, a senior analyst of risk management at Transwestern. “Even with insurance, expenses relating to a hurricane can be staggering. Deductibles are high and exclusions are plentiful. The claims adjustment process could take a long time, so having cash on hand is a prudent idea.”
Landry recommends having a pre-loss contract with a forensic accountant who will be able to immediately help owners and developers measure their property damage and time element losses and provide the insurance company with records and documents to support their claim to accelerate the claims payment process.
“Include in the property policy a designated adjuster to handle all property damage claims for a developer or owner,” Landry said. “Adjusters are going to be in high demand in the event of a catastrophic event so it is prudent to make pre-loss arrangements to have one ready to hit the ground when disaster strikes. Advise owners and developers to carry enough contingent cash on their books to protect against uninsured loss.”