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Flood insurance 101: How to get covered as Minnesota waters rise

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Rain and flood damage in Moose Lake, Minn.
Busted windows and dislodged window shutters mark the front of a Moose Lake, Minn., after heavy rains and flooding in 2012.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2012

Springtime means flooding in Minnesota. And with water levels expected to be especially high this year, insurance coverage could become a financial lifesaver for many homeowners and renters. 

The best way to make sure your home and possessions are covered can't be answered in an article — people must check their individual insurance policies. 

But there are some basic principles to know about how flood insurance works — and doesn't work.

Who should get flood insurance?

Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley believes everyone who suspects their home could get flooded should make sure they have flood insurance, "especially in the unusual weather seasons we've been having."

This unusual weather is the new norm in Minnesota. Climate change is making the state wetter and warmer — thus more prone to floods. 

Who can get flood insurance and how much does it cost?

Anyone can get flood insurance — you don't need to live on a flood plain or federally designated flood zone. 

As for cost, it really depends. A number of factors including location, building age and number of floors factor into the rate.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a calculator for estimating flood insurance premiums.

How quickly do flood insurance policies take effect?

Anyone hoping to get covered quickly for potential flooding in the immediate future is out of luck. Most policies include a 30-day waiting period before they take effect. 

Kelley's advice: Don't wait, get covered now. 

What should I do if I'm a renter?

  First, check your renters insurance policy, if you have one. Some policies may cover a tenant's possessions damaged in a flood. Others wouldn't, Kelley said, and would require a separate flood policy. 

Kelley said it's worth checking with your landlord regarding flooding coverage, but it's likely the building's policy would only cover structural damage and not any of a tenant's possessions. 

Do I really need flood-specific insurance?

In short, yes — if you want to be covered. The types of incidents covered will be laid out in individual policies.

Property damage from rain isn't necessarily the same as damage from flooding, even though the two may intuitively seem the same. 

For example, Kelley said, regular homeowners policies may cover damages from ice dams leaking water into the house, but there's no state policy on the matter. 

Again, individuals should check with their insurer or read the policy in advance to be certain of what's covered.  

How do I get flood insurance?

  Many insurers will write policies, so check with a broker if you have one.

Otherwise, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a website to get prospective buyers on the right track.

What can I do if a flood damages my property but my insurer denies my claim?

If you've purchased flood insurance and make a claim you think is covered but the insurer denies it, Kelley said, you can call the Commerce Department's consumer services center to seek help or file a complaint. 

The Twin Cities metro area number is 651-539-1600. The toll-free statewide number is 1-800-657-3602.