Have a 20-year-old roof? You may lose your homeowners insurance

Is newer always better? When it comes to insuring roofs, it is.

Many home insurance companies are becoming more restrictive when it comes to roof coverage. Key examples:
  • Refusing to renew existing homeowner insurance policies on houses with roofs older than 20 years without passing an inspection; failed inspections often require roof replacement prior to renewal.
  • Not writing new policies for homes with roofs over 20 years old.
  • Paying actual cash value for roof replacement for older roofs.

As expensive as it may be to replace a roof, you may have no choice if doing nothing would cost you your home insurance policy, according to Chip Merlin, president of Tampa-based Merlin Law Group, P.A.

"Insurance companies are generally tightening underwriting requirements for older homes in general -- and then specific homes where there has not been a replacement of roofs, plumbing or electrical. Roofs are the biggest issue," says Merlin. "Generally, in geographic areas where the demand of insurance exceeds the insurance company's appetite for risk, the greater the underwriting criteria come into play. Florida is such a state, but we are also seeing it along all coastal areas and in areas where hail damage is most prevalent."

Merlin notes that while some companies are tightening inspection requirements and requiring homeowners to cover the cost of these inspections for renewals, most insurers are simply refusing to write new policies for homes with roofs older than 20 years. (See " 7 types of homes that are hard to insure.")

"The trend is to require an older roof - 15 to 20 years plus -- to have an inspection to get a renewal. This is probably a good policy because it promotes better maintenance and reduces needless loss," says Merlin.

Insurance.com Managing Editor Des Toups says new homeowners whose roofs passed muster with a home inspector or lender may find they don't measure up to an insurance company's underwriting guidelines. "It's a nasty surprise, especially if you were stretching to buy a house in the first place," he says.