When Cary Williams learned on May 30 that the paint store two doors down from her Santa Monica, California, boxing gym had been looted, she raced from her home to try to keep her own space safe.
She was too late. The windows of her gym, the Stables, had been smashed. The gym gear was gone, along with the video equipment she'd recently purchased to host virtual classes during the lockdown. In total, Williams estimates, there's between $12,000 and $15,000 worth of damages and stolen goods. Even worse, she soon discovered she didn't have the proper insurance to cover looting.
Williams is part of a cohort of business owners affected by looting and vandalism in recent weeks amid the protests in many U.S. cities against police brutality. While most property or small-business insurance policies cover the damage, about half of U.S. entrepreneurs don't have the proper insurance, according to an estimate from Daniel Aldrich, director of the Securities and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University.
Some entrepreneurs take out policies but forget or choose not to renew them. In Williams's case, her policy focused more on liability, since she runs a gym, and didn't cover the property.
"We simply don't recognize the realities of risks," Aldrich says. "A small-business owner may not have recognized the possibility of civil unrest in the midst of Covid-19."
If you do have insurance that covers looting, here's how to expedite the claim process with your insurer so you get reimbursed faster. If not, you may still have a few options to avoid paying the entire cost out of your own pocket.
Steps to take if your business is covered by insurance
Before calling your insurance company, assemble a detailed list of what's broken or missing, using inventory records or receipts, says Scott Holeman, media relations director of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group. Take photos to document the damage to your property, he adds, and do what you can to prevent potential future damage, such as buying wood to board up your windows. Be sure to save receipts, because those costs can be reimbursed as well. Additionally, you should file a police report.
Having the proper paperwork handy when you call your insurer should enable you to quickly set up a time to meet with an adjuster and go over the claim. Keep in mind, though, that reimbursement processing times can vary depending on how many nearby businesses have been affected and the extent of the damage, Holeman says.
This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions about your policy. For example, if you're rebuilding your storefront in a flood zone and didn't previously have flood insurance, this may be the time to bring that up with your agent, Holeman says.
Options if you're not covered
Many entrepreneurs whose businesses were looted during the recent protests are successfully tapping their community for support, Holeman says. When Williams's gym was looted, for example, a friend set up a GoFundMe campaign to help cover her costs. She's seeking $15,000 and as of June 16 had raised more than $8,400, according to the campaign's page. Some customers also helped Williams clean up the gym after the incident.
Another option is applying for a no-interest or low-interest loan through the Small Business Administration, Holeman says. While it's not free money, it can be a good, quick way to get cash for rebuilding and restocking shelves. Lastly, Holeman advises, ask your local government if any disaster relief funding is available.