Insurers Are Using Drones to Look At Your Roof — and Potentially Drop Your Coverage

While aerial footage provides more access for insurers, customers say they’re only getting half the picture
Aerial view of a suburb in NY

Drones have been around long enough that we've all seen them by now, hovering over the beach or a hiking trail and sounding, curiously, like an entire swarm of bees.

But these days, they're not just being used to get Instagram-worthy aerial footage of weekend activities. Increasingly, homeowners insurance companies are using drones to assess policyholders' insured property — and, in some cases, to deny or cancel their coverage.

Insurers drop coverage due to drone footage

Increasingly, homeowners have been complaining that their insurers are refusing to renew their policies after capturing aerial photography that puts roof quality in question. In some cases, homeowners claim the insurers refuse to amend their decisions, even after independent inspectors assess the property.

For example, according to The Wall Street Journal, Auburn, Calif. resident Cindy Picos says her insurer, CSAA, dropped her homeowners coverage after obtaining aerial photos. Her requests to view the photos herself were denied, she says, though an inspector told her the roof still had 10 more good years.

And Picos is not alone. Bay Area resident Marilyn Smith told KGO-TV in San Francisco that her policy was pulled after she drained her swimming pool to save water during a California drought — which the insurance company noticed in drone photos and considered "deferred maintenance." Further, a spate of similar complaints in Connecticut has caused the state's Insurance Department to issue a notice to homeowners insurance carriers that clarifies valid reasons for policy nonrenewal.

Yes, insurance companies can surveil you with drones

At this point, it remains legal in many areas for insurance companies to use drones and other unseen surveillance techniques to check out your property, make coverage decisions and attempt to sniff out fraud. And if the influx of reports are any indication, the practice is also quite common.

Of course, such a practice has its pitfalls — as Picos and her counterparts discovered. Sometimes, aerial photography doesn't tell the whole story: What looks like damage might only be a shadow, or the photo may simply be out of date.

This trend comes on the heels of an ongoing kerfuffle in the homeowners insurance world as insurers refuse to renew the policies of residents in — or entirely pull out of — increasingly disaster-prone areas like California (where wildfire seasons have grown more destructive) and coastal Florida (where hurricane flooding can decimate properties).

The importance of homeowners insurance

While not legally mandated like car insurance is in most states, homeowners insurance coverage is critical: It protects what is, for most Americans, the single most valuable asset they own. (Plus, if you're still paying off your home with a mortgage, your lender will require it.)

Further, even in areas where coverage is still available, the cost of homeowners insurance has been on the rise. Today, the average covered homeowner in the United States pays $1,516 per year in premiums, or $126 per month — but some quotes are exponentially higher. (Even personal finance guru Suze Orman chose to self-insure, usually considered a risky financial move, after being offered a $28,000 policy on her Florida condo.)

In addition, a ValuePenguin survey found that 72% of homeowners saw insurance rate increases in 2023, and most expect their premiums to continue the upward trend.

If you feel your claim has been wrongfully denied or you've been offered a low payout, you can file a dispute. It's also worth double-checking your policy to ensure you know exactly what's covered — and what isn't.

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