From Naperville to Willow Springs, homeowners battle for repairs a year after tornado – NBC Chicago
Nearly a year after a tornado tore through suburban Chicago, some homeowners told NBC 5 they were still in the eye of a storm with their insurance companies for repairs.
It’s been a turbulent year for residents of Chicago’s southwest suburbs as some homeowners from Naperville to Willow Springs are still mending their lives nearly a year after an EF-3 tornado tore through the region.
The disastrous tornado damaged hundreds of homes and downed thousands of trees on June 20, 2021, the National Weather Service foundleaving a mess behind.
In the aftermath, there were stories of neighbors helping neighbors, coming to help in the rebuilding process.
What came next, however, for some was an even bigger whirlwind to navigate: a fight with their insurance company over what would be covered and what they would have to pay out of pocket.
This struggle has been going on for months, many homeowners told NBC 5 Responds, leaving them feeling as battered and bruised as their homes after the storm.
Many owners, however, faced resistance head-on and joined forces, helping each other inform each individual insurance skirmish.
As neighbors shared their experiences and anecdotes spread through these communities, Mayor Gina Cunningham of Woodridge turned to NBC 5 Responds in March when she said she didn’t know what to do.
“After hearing and working with so many affected neighbors and struggling to get the job started or finished properly, it was important for us to try to help,” Cunningham said.
NBC 5 sent an informal survey to homeowners in that area to find out what problems exist and heard from dozens of homeowners who said they were still fighting with their insurance company over repairs.
Consumer advocates believe that the future will show that these types of situations, born of natural disasters, are no longer uncommon. On the contrary, they are slowly becoming the norm.
“Let’s just say the elephant in the room: Climate change is obviously causing a lot more disasters,” said Valerie Brown, executive director of the nonprofit United Policyholders.
“A lot more people are affected by disasters,” Brown said, “and that’s opened up a Pandora’s box of experiences that only a percentage of people have had in the past.”
Rebuild homes near Bruce Lake Park
It all goes back to Father’s Day 2021 night, just before midnight.
Neighbors along Bruce Lake Park in Downers Grove said when the winds picked up and the rain fell hard, they turned to their phones for the latest forecast.
“I was watching Brant Miller over time when the sirens went off,” Sandra Wilhoit said, adding that she was home alone at the time with her out-of-town husband.
“Not even a minute later was when the tornado hit,” said Joe Cervantes, who lives across from Sandra’s home along Bruce Lake.
Joe was home with his wife and three daughters when the tornado hit.
Joe’s neighbor, Alana Radwan, also remembers the night, rushing into her basement with her dog.
“I heard some loud noises, breaking glass,” Alana said.
As she walked up the stairs to her basement, Alana said she could hear someone knocking on her front door. It was Joe: a good neighbor who watched over her.
Sandra also said that an hour after the storm hit, more than 100 volunteers from her neighborhood came to her rescue – gestures she will never forget.
Memories of Father’s Day 2021 night still haunt the neighborhood, but Alana, Sandra and Joe all said they were grateful to be okay and reassured that their landlord’s insurance through State Farm would make things right.
“I didn’t think about it,” Joe said when he finally fell asleep that night. “I thought it would just be taken care of, so I didn’t stress about it. No one was physically injured. Everything is fixable. »
Sandra, Alana and Joe said they all pay their monthly or annual premiums on time, for full coverage.
But nearly a year after the tornado, while other homes on their street are returning to normal, some of their repairs are still underway.
The owners blame it on their insurance company: State Farm.
“My battle continues to be the roof,” Sandra said.
“They [State Farm] look at it from the perspective of ‘Well, we’ll give you $68 to fix your front door,'” says Alana Radwan, “I can’t even ask someone in my house to look at it for $68 $.
Among their gripes: Lowball estimates on materials. Claims denied, blamed on lack of maintenance on their part, rather than a storm, the owners told NBC 5.
Alana and Joe said State Farm went so far as to say their homes weren’t in the path of the 2021 tornado.
“They said, ‘Oh, the wind wasn’t above a certain level, so we’re not covering any of that,'” Joe Cervantes said.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that the three houses were in the path of tornado damage.
But Alana thinks that argument is misplaced.
“It’s a late process,” Alana said. “They think you’ll eventually give in and do the repairs yourself because they have to be done.”
Other owners have also filed complaints.
NBC 5 shared an informal survey with homeowners affected by the 2021 tornado. Homeowners who received the survey had previously been in contact with city officials in the area, as well as nonprofits focused on recovery efforts.
28 owners responded to the survey from April 1 to May 18, indicating a series of complaints about insurance claims still being processed nearly a year later.
Half of those who responded shared complaints about State Farm.
Among those interviewed, homeowners expressed a “very stressful situation” and a difficult process to prove that the damage suffered should be covered or was related to the tornado.
“[State Farm] denies many claims, saying we cannot prove the damage was due to the tornado and not wear and tear over time,” one Naperville homeowner wrote.
Another Naperville owner said, “State Farm’s repair cost database is grossly out of date. Does not reflect current market environment.
“The public should know what difficulties State Farm is causing,” an owner told NBC 5, living in unincorporated DuPage County, between Darien and Woodridge.
Was your house damaged by the tornado of June 20, 2021? Are you still waiting for an insurance claim for repairs? If so, NBC 5 Responds would love to hear about your experience. To answer our survey, Click here.
Some owners have also turned to state regulators to raise concerns.
Records obtained by NBC 5 show that ten complaints have been filed with the Illinois Department of Insurance regarding State Farm’s handling of claims related to the 2021 tornado.
Only two complaints resulted in settlements, while a DOI spokesperson confirmed that the others dealt with matters outside the agency’s authority.
In response to the survey results and complaints from the Department of Insurance, a State Farm spokesperson pointed out that it was the largest “homeowners insurer in Illinois.”
State Farm said it “responded to more than 4,200 claims” related to last year’s tornado, and so far the insurer has paid out $49 million for customer claims in the area.
The insurer would not discuss details surrounding the specific cases that NBC 5 asked about, but said it has remained in regular communication with customers.
“Claims with structural damage may include consultation with engineers and experts to help determine the full extent of damage and help define appropriate repairs,” a spokesperson said.
“When new information is shared with us, even after payment has been made, we evaluate the new information,” State Farm said. “If there is a significant discrepancy between when the complaint arose and when the new information is shared with us, it may prolong the complaints process.”
Back near Bruce Lake, Sandra and Keith Wilhoit said after NBC 5 contacted State Farm, the insurer said it was sending an engineer to reassess the damage, including the couple’s roof.
Alana and Joe told NBC 5 that they haven’t heard from State Farm in a while now.
For homeowners affected by a tornado, there are resources available to help.
United Policyholders is a national, nonprofit organization that advocates for consumers of all types of insurance. The organization has a list of resources for victims of tornadoes and other natural disasters.
To learn more about these United Policyholders resources, Click here.
These neighbors hope their stories can help others as storm season is upon us.
“It’s just incredibly devastating,” Sandra said. “To say that as a consumer, you bought, I would call that a good product, to protect you. And then, when you need protection, you find out it’s not there.