Stripped house becomes insurance mess

August 1, 2008 8:53:27 PM PDT
Burglary is always troubling, but the extent of this crime is just jaw dropping and the news the homeowner got after reporting the theft is even more shocking. One look around Morton Newman's Camden home and you might think it's just another abandoned property, but it's not, at least not yet.

"I was away approximately three weeks and three days," Morton said, "I came back to my house being trashed."

Morton was out of town on business and while he was gone, thieves took everything: furniture, televisions, appliances, and even the kitchen sink.

"They took the piping, they went through the walls to do this," Morton said.

Morton had oil heat in his Baird Boulevard home and every pipe on every floor was literally ripped out and stolen.

One neighbor witnessed the burglary in progress.

"I saw people going into the house taking the furniture out. It was a white truck, it didn't have any name on it," neighbor Marjorie Ross said.

After calling the police, Morton called his insurance agent.

But that's when he got another shock.

"They'll cover the foundation of the walls, but they won't cover the piping in the walls," Morton said.

Morton's homeowner's policy states he is not covered for pilferage, theft, burglary or larceny.

That means the policy will pay for the damage the burglars did, but it will not pay for any of Morton's belongings or any of the pipes taken out of his home.

"I'm 31-years-old and I might lose my house because I don't have no means to get it fixed," Morton said.

Action News called Morton's insurance agent and asked why he didn't provide Morton a policy that included burglary coverage.

The agent told us, quote "He's not going to find anything with theft or burglary in that neighborhood."

The agent also said while he felt bad for Morton - quote "You're dealing with Camden, New Jersey. It's connected to the crime rate."

But New Jersey's department of banking and insurance tells Action News denying theft coverage due to location is illegal.

"It's called red lining. It's when an insurance company literally takes a red pen and draws a circle around certain neighborhoods and says we're not going to sell insurance there or we're not going to sell a specific type of insurance there," Lance Haver of the Philadelphia Office of Consumer Affairs said.

Consumer advocates say the practice is affecting homeowners not just in New Jersey but in Pennsylvania, as well. They also say redlining puts certain neighborhoods at a disadvantage.

"If you can't buy homeowners insurance, if you can't get insurance against theft, it's going to be very difficult to keep that neighborhood stable," Haver said.

The bottom line is you need to ask questions and know what's covered and not covered in your policy.

As for Morton, he can't live in his home nor does he know if he can afford to fix it and it's not likely he can sell it in this condition.

Plus, as our Action News camera captured, Morton's home is now vulnerable to squatters, who could do even more damage.

New Jersey insurance investigators say they do want to look into Morton's case.

They've asked him to file a formal report with their agency.

If you live in what's termed a high risk area where severe storms are common or the crime rates are high look into your state's FAIR Plan. Those policies tend to cost more and offer less coverage but they do provide some protection to homeowners having trouble getting a traditional insurance company to provide them certain coverage.