Recent Landslides in Marin 2023

Recent headlines concerning various landslides and mudslides in Marin County and East Bay during the torrential storms of January 2023 has reminded us of an important risk mitigation challenge. Landslides are seldom Covered. However the differences between Landslides, Mudslides, Mudflows, and Flooding are important.

According to ABC News “Nearly 20 residents have been displaced after a mudslide flowed into the back of an apartment building….” This happened in Fairfax, California in January of 2023. Fairfax is located in Marin County California. Recently NBC Bay Area reported: “The slide only affected one building, but a total of three duplexes were evacuated over concerns that more of the hill could slide.”

The Earth Movement Exclusion on Homeowners Policies:

Our parters over at QuakeCov have done an outstanding job of explaining the earth movement exclusion on homeowners insurance policies: “Typical HO3 and HO5 Homeowners Insurance policies do not provide coverage for any earth movement. Insurance policies are all different, but a common ISO HO3 policy (HO 00 03 10 00) excludes coverage for “Earth Movement.” and “Earth Movement means Earthquake…Landslide, mudslide, or mudflow…subsistence or sinkhole or…any earth movement including earth sinking, rising, or shifting…” While you may be able to get coverage for earthquakes and possibly what is loosely called mudflow – landslide is a whole different can of worms.

KTVU reports: “Had this been a simple tree fall, insurance would really not be a problem. But landslides and the fire department thinks it looks like a landslide, which is uninsurable, generally speaking.” [Keep in mind that this is KTVU’s opinion.]

Without going too far into the details of the recent event and writing more broadly. As in not specific to this situation. [Mostly because we do not have all of the facts and the DOI has yet to weigh in.] We have previously written about the challenge of finding what one might call Landslide Coverage in the personal lines insurance world.

Editors Note: You will see conflicting terms in news reports with the words Landslide and Mudslide. For our purposes the two are fairly similar. Additionally note – that many source are drawing opinons about the type of insurance policy this building or buildings had – which we have no information about. Homeowners Insurance, Condo Insurance, Commercial Insurance?

What is a Landslide?

USGS defines a landslide as “the movement of a mass of rock, debris, or earth down a slope.” That would be a simple definition and may not be the definition many insurers use. USGS continues: “Landslides are a type of “mass wasting,” which denotes any down-slope movement of soil and rock under the direct influence of gravity.” The more scientific details of their definition expand: “The term “landslide” encompasses five modes of slope movement: falls, topples, slides, spreads, and flows. These are further subdivided by the type of geologic material (bedrock, debris, or earth). “


Landslide, Mudslide, Mudflow – There is a Difference here?

We previously defined landslide. In the insurance world – Mudslides are essentially landslides of mud. Mudflows though may have an entirely different meaning. Once explained to me as a flood of mud, a mudslide might be covered under a flood insurance policy. FEMA defines mudflows as “A river of liquid and flowing mud on the surfaces of normally dry land areas, as when earth is carried by a current of water.” It expands and says that “Other earth movements, such as landslide, slope failure or a saturated soil mass moving by liquidity down a slope, are not mudflows.”

FEMA states that “an NFIP policy covers mudflow if it meets the general definition of flooding under the standard flood insurance policy.” FEMA Source.

Landslides and Homeowners Insurance:

All of that is to bascially mean that movement of mass down a slope would be considered landslides. From your homeowners policy though the exact difference and definition of landslides may not matter all that much because typical homeowner policies have a broader exclusion: the full exclusion of land movement. [Ask your own insurer, agent, AND read your own policy.]

Additionally there is an exclusion for floods on home policies.

The DOI Open Question:

It is possible that the California Department of Insurance could weigh in on this situation. [I really doubt it]But they have weighed in on previous land movement cases and upset some insurers. The exact reason….well that is pretty complicated. Let us just say that a peril that causes another peril can be debated as to what the root cause is and hence what exactly is insured. [We are not attorneys here and much of this gets into deep legaleese.] Likely this will not matter additionally because Floods – are excluded from homeowners policies as well. And we do are not aware of any triggering wildfire in this situation.

What Consumers in the San Francisco Region Need to Know about Landslides and Home Insurance:

What do homeowners in San Francisco and California need to know about Landslide Coverage: You are generally not covered by homewners insurance from a landslide. While its possible to secure a seperate policy, much like flood or earthquake, the market for Landslide Insurance is bare. This agency has had little to no luck securing it for eager clients. [If you are an insurer that takes it – Give me a Call!]

Landslides are really one area where proper property insurance does not currently seem possible in the State of California. Perhaps in other states, during other times, but not now.

Stay Safe Everyone.

ABC News Report

NBC Bay Area


Late January 2023 Update:

Since the publishing date of this short article additional landslides and landslide risks have appeared. A neighberhood in Orinda has been hit, according to KTVU Fox2. “A slow-moving landslide that began last Sunday night, now shows a home was literally pulled by gravity, down a hill, at least 30-feet down, doing so much damage, it was red-tagged as totally unsafe for habitation.”

An additional note in the article states: “If a homeowner can prove that someone or something actually caused this landslide, then that should be a matter for the courts. But, as far as landslide insurance, that is virtually impossible to get.” This statement hits home with the same point that our article is made, “landslide insurance… is virtually impossible to get.”