Home Insurance in France: What Do I Do if My House Catches Fire?
Home accidents - such as fires or explosions - can happen in the blink of an eye, yet leave very severe impacts. Such events may, indeed, cause significant damages to your goods or your home and even to yourself or other members on the household. Should a fire or an explosion occur inside your home, the victims can lose a lot, not just because of the effect of flames but also because of the smoke. Because of these highly negative impacts, whether you are a landlord or a tenant, it is always recommended to have an insurance plan that will cover you against these risks and damages.
Multirisk insurances include all the above guarantees and will cover the risk of fire and explosion. But what exactly is - and isn't - covered? What should you do in case of damage, and how can you ensure you'll be compensated? Here is a guideline that will help you better understand what a fire and explosion guarantee is, and how to make it apply in case of damages.
What is a fire and explosion guarantee?
In France, home fires cause around 800 deaths per year and thousands of euros in damages. Therefore, the fire and explosion guarantee has become an essential part of all multirisk home insurances. It is considered as one of the basic coverages that virtually every home insurance provider will offer.
As a basic coverage, this insurance applies to all tenants and landlords. Note that, under French law, it is mandatory for tenants to subscribe to this insurance, while for landlords it is not obligatory, although it is highly recommended.
Also called “fire home insurance,” it covers all chattels, meaning all goods that are in the home at the moment of the damage such as:
- Household appliances and electrical devices,
- High-tech and electronic devices,
- Clothes, jewellery…
Some of these goods may be covered partially or only up to a certain amount, as will be described and detailed in the general and particular provisions of your home insurance agreement.
All these goods will be covered in case of:
- Damage directly due to fire,
- Damage caused by an explosion,
- Damage caused by lightning.
Your contract may cover you in case of damages caused by the intervention of fire-fighters, or expenses engaged in the intervention of emergency services.
The fire and explosion guarantee will become valid and applicable as soon as a flame, an explosion or any kind of flashover occurs in your home and that may lead or cause a home fire.
What does the fire and explosion guarantee cover?
The fire and explosion guarantee generally covers the following elements (do not forget to look carefully to the terms and conditions of your own insurance contract to be sure that all the following situations are included):
- The real estate premises that have been damaged by the fire: your multirisk insurance will cover your property up to an amount that will take into account the age of the good. This means that, with a basic guarantee, you might not be able to rebuild your home with the amount of money that you receive as your coverage. If you want total peace of mind, you can subscribe to a specific option called ‘’compensation at new value’’ that will ensure a higher reimbursement rate in case of damage caused to your good.
- The goods destroyed by the fire: all your goods such as your furniture, your clothes, your electronic equipment or any other domestic appliance are included in the fire guarantee and you will be refunded for their loss.
- The valuables: jewellery, old furniture, collections or paintings... all items that are considered in your contract will be covered by the fire insurance up to a certain amount. It is up to each subscriber to declare the value for the goods they own and keeps in their home, and they should thus take into account the value of these goods too. It is very important to read the conditions (general and particular) of your insurance agreement carefully and subscribe to a specific option if needed in order to cover your valuable at the right value.
In all cases, you should carefully read all the terms and conditions of the insurance contract you want to subscribe and even compare different offers.
What are the different obligations of the insured party?
In order to prevent a fire, an explosion and the damage they cause, from occurring in a home, the insured party has some obligations to fulfil.
Regarding the risk of fire, different types of elements should be put together as preventive measures. The goal is to have a safe place to live in in order to avoid creating any kind of situation that could get transformed into a risky event. Therefore, as the beneficiary of an insurance plan, you should protect your goods and the place insured in order to be able to ask for an indemnification. Indeed, before issuing you a refund, the insurer will look if you have been cautious enough and if you have not caused the damage by something that they would consider as a “risky behaviour”.
In all multirisk insurance (also called MRH insurance) plans, you will find written the good practices to follow and the necessary measures to take in order for the fire guarantee to be applicable:
- The smoke detectors: it is a legal obligation for the landlords to install a stand-alone smoke detector in their properties. Some rules have to be followed for such installation. It is a very simple set-up, but you have to make sure that the small box is positioned in a place either in one of the household's core rooms or in a corridor near rooms. Inf in any doubt, you can ask for the help of a professional to find the right place for your smoke detector.
- The chimney sweeping: it is a legal obligation for all inhabitants of a place with a chimney, or any other kind of heating with a duct, to clean the pipe once or twice a year. This legal obligation is regulated by each regional department of France. In all cases, it has to be done or assumed by the landlord.
- The brushwood clearing: for all homes near a forest or dry nature where may exist some high risk of forest and wildfire due to high temperature, there is an obligation of taking care of the deadwood and bushes that may increase the risk of fires. Such cleaning shall be handled by the landlord and has to be done at least, at 50 meters depth around any home that is located less than 200 meters from woods or forest. Pay attention to the location of your home and ask the city council if you need more information.
Since 2015, there is a legal obligation for all the inhabitants of apartments or houses to install a smoke detector in all home considered as principal residences and install a stand-alone smoke detector approved NF.
Once you have taken all the required measures to prevent any risk of fire, you should notify your insurer and tell him or her that you have complied with all the obligations. If you ever do not follow these obligations and fire or an explosion occurs, your insurer may decline any guarantee and can refuse to cover the damage suffered.
Here are some statistics to give you an idea of why it is so important to prevent the risk of fire:
- In France, a fire breaks out every 2 minutes;
- Fires are the second cause of death for children younger than 5 years;
- 80% of deaths in case of fire are due to the smoke
- Home fires lead to 800 deaths per year and more than 10,000 injuries
- Only 20% of home in France have good smoke detectors
- 70% of deadly fires break out at night
Short guideline of what to do in case of a fire: the lifesaving skills
Fires and explosions are one of the major risks that can not only damage your goods and your home but also hurt the people inside the house or apartment and the neighbours or third parties around. More than just the flames or the explosion itself, the smoke is a very toxic element of fires that may have a very bad impact on victims’ health.
Here are some guidelines on how to react in case of fire:
- Call for emergency assistance and try to explain the situation answering all the questions they may ask;
- Alert all the inhabitants of the building if it is an apartment or the house;
- Try to extinguish the fire with a blanket or a fire extinguisher;
- Evacuate the house or the apartment;
- Make sure no one is missing and that all the inhabitants or people inside the premises have left the house or the building;
- Try to stay calm and wait for emergency assistance if they have not arrived yet.
How to extinguish the beginning of a fire in your home
If you catch the beginning of a fire in your home, house or apartment, and if the fire and the flames are not too powerful, you can try to stop it with a fire extinguisher. If the fire begins on a textile material, try to trample on it in order to extinguish the flames. If the fire starts on a solid material, you can use water.
But if the fire is too powerful, here is some advice:
- Do not open a hot door. If you need to open a door to exit, first, verify if it is hot and if it is, try to find another issue;
- If the fire catches on the hair or clothes of a person, you need to use a towel or a blanket to extinguish the flames or even put the person on the floor and make them roll over on themselves to smother the flames;
- Alert all the inhabitants and people living in the apartment, house or building;
- Do not lose time by dressing your children, instead roll them in a blanket if it is cold outside;
- Call the French emergency services by dialling 18 for the fire-fighters;
- If you live in an apartment, do not use the elevator, take the stairs to leave the building.
- Go out and wait for the emergencies to arrive. Do not return inside for any reason.
A hot door means the fire is on the other side, if you open the door it can create a wind that will increase the fire.
In case of fire in your kitchen:
The kitchen in one of the most common places in a home where fire can occur. If there is a start of a fire in your kitchen, here are some steps you need to follow:
- If the fire starts in a pot or a pan: try to cover the fire with a lid or a wet kitchen towel. But be careful not to put water in the flames as water may create the opposite effect and spread out the flames and the burning oils that would increase the fire. Despite what we may think and do as a reflex, water is not always the answer in case of fire, especially if there is burning oil.
- If the fire starts in the oven: close the door of the oven and cut any gas or electric energy in the oven. The fire will decrease and die.
How to declare damage due to a fire or an explosion to your insurer
As in all cases of damage that may lead to the reimbursement by an insurance provider, some steps have to be followed by the insured party.
If you are the victim of a fire in your house or apartment, or even if you suffer consequences from a fire of your neighbour’s property, you have up to 5 business days to declare the damage to your insurer.
Therefore, the first step will be to call your insurer and tell them about the fire and the consequences you suffered on your goods. It will start the administrative process and alert him or her on the fact that you will send a written declaration.
Then, you have to write a letter and send it by mail by registered letter with an acknowledgement of receipt, to have the proof that you made it in time.
You will have to provide your insurer with a file of declaration that will act as a damage report. You should include all the proofs that will justify the damage, but also the value of the goods damaged. That is why it is so important to make copies of your bills, take photos of the goods and keep any other documents that can be useful to estimate the value of your goods. You can use your webmail or an online cloud system to keep all the proofs online and safe. This way, in case of fire in your home, you can still find them online. If you are the landlord, you will also have to provide the insurer with a notary certificate.
Depending on the gravity of the fire, the insurer may ask an expert to evaluate the damages in your house or apartment.
How will you be indemnified by your insurer in case of fire or explosion in your home?
Once you have sent all the required documents to your insurer, and once your insurer has validated all the damage report and once the expert has written his or he reports, you will receive the calculated amount of the indemnification. This amount is fixed by the expert regarding the causes and the extent of the damages.
You are allowed to have a different point of view and to disagree with the experts’ conclusions. If so, you need to write to your insurer and find an amicable resolution. But you can also require the intervention of an independent expert to carry out your own expenses. He or she will create another report in order to evaluate the damages. If there is no solution to the dispute at this point, the arbitrator of the insurance will try to settle the litigation and take into account expert reports before making a decision.
Do not forget that if you did not follow the obligation of the tenant or the landlord regarding the prevention of the risk of fire (smoke detectors or bush and wood cleaning) the insurer may refuse to indemnify you, or he or she can indemnify you at a lower amount.
If the fire comes from your neighbours' home and you suffered damage, your own insurer will indemnify you for the losses you suffer and then he or she will recourse against your neighbours’ insurer.