Does HO Coverage Extend to Docks, Bulkheads and Wharves?

Q: "I always understood that anything in or over the water is excluded under an HO policy. But lately I’ve been hearing that docks, bulkheads and wharves have coverage under Coverage B Other Structures. The insured in question has an ISO HO-3 2000 edition. Does this policy cover docks, bulkheads or wharves?"

A: “Coverage questions may begin with, ‘I've always been told…’ but they can't be answered that way. As always, to answer any coverage question, you have to carefully review the precise policy language. This policy contains only two mentions of this type of property.

First, coverage for collapse does not extend to bulkheads, piers, wharves and docks unless the collapse is caused by the collapse of a building:

‘Loss to an awning, fence, patio, deck, pavement, swimming pool, underground pipe, flue, drain, cesspool, septic tank, foundation, retaining wall, bulkhead, pier, wharf or dock is not included under b.(2) through (6) above, unless the loss is a direct result of the collapse of a building or any part of a building.’

Second, there is no coverage for bulkheads, piers, wharves and docks due to freezing, thawing, pressure or weight of water or ice:

‘Freezing, thawing, pressure or weight of water or ice, whether driven by wind or not, to a:

(a) Fence, pavement, patio or swimming pool;

(b) Footing, foundation, bulkhead, wall, or any other structure or device that supports all or part of a building, or other structure;

(c) Retaining wall or bulkhead that does not support all or part of a building or other structure; or

(d) Pier, wharf or dock’

Other than that, these items have coverage like pretty much any other Coverage B property. The catch in the case of waterfront property is that they must be on the ‘residence premises.’ For example:

‘Coverage B – Other Structures

1. We cover other structures on the ‘residence premises’ set apart from the dwelling by clear space. This includes structures connected to the dwelling by only a fence, utility line, or similar connection.’

I have a dock at my house on a lake. I only own the property down to a few feet from the shoreline, as marked by the Army Corps of Engineers. If the ‘residence premises’ on my HO policy’s declarations page is my legal address, then the dock is likely not on my ‘residence premises.’ The easy solution is to show the ‘residence premises’ on the declarations page as my address, ‘including boat dock and attached structures on ABC Lake’ or something similar.

But some underwriters don’t like to do that. My current HO insurer is fine with it but the one before that required me to insure this off-premises structure under one of two ISO endorsements for an additional $100 premium. I’m aware of a nearby claim in which lightning struck a $25,000+ boat house and dock, burning them to the waterline. The claim was initially denied because the structure was not on the ‘residence premises’ nor endorsed onto the policy. Note: This claim was ultimately paid. The insured was a trial lawyer. But that's another story.

This is how ISO handles this type of property. You may have insurers with modified ISO forms or their own forms who might do it differently, particularly if such property is located in an area where it is more susceptible to loss than land-based property.”

Bill Wilson is director of the Big “I” Virtual University.

This question was originally submitted by an agent through the VU’s Ask an Expert Service. Answers to other coverage questions are available on the VU website. If you need help accessing the website, email to request login information.