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How much HOA Insurance or Condo Association Insurance is needed?

By Stephen Marcus

When community association boards ask, as they often do, "How much coverage is enough?" insurance agents I know invariably reply, "How much can you afford?"

It may be possible to be too rich or too thin, but it is very difficult to have too much insurance today, and very risky to have too little. I haven't conducted a scientific survey, but I am reasonably certain that most community associations and apartment buildings are woefully under-insured. The Fannie Mae requirement for condominiums (and thus the industry standard) calls for $1 million in general liability coverage. But the amount of coverage needed to make Fannie Mae's underwriters comfortable is not necessarily the coverage needed to protect a community association (or an apartment building owner) from a potentially ruinous liability claim. There was a time when $1 million sounded like a lot of coverage - but that was long before $5 million and $10 million judgments had become almost routine.

I asked the apartment managers attending a recent Institute of Real Estate Management seminar to indicate, with a show of hands, how much insurance coverage they had. Out of 70 managers in the room, only 2 still had their hands raised at $10 million. How would your real estate company or your community association handle a $32 million judgment awarded to a tenant or a unit owner claiming damages related to mold? What about an accident in which your building superintendent accidentally ran over and killed a child in the parking lot? A $1 million policy would not begin to cover the likely jury award.

Given the financial risks, nothing is more important than the insurance protection you have in place. But I don't think there are more than five people - including insurance agents - who have ever read their insurance policy or who understand exactly what it covers. What you don't know about your policy can definitely hurt you. One recent example: A condominium in Gloucester was destroyed completely by fire a few months ago. When the association filed its claim, they discovered that because of a measurement error, the policy understated the size of the development by 10,000 sq. ft. As a result, the coverage was less than required to rebuild the community.


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