According to the Department of Environmental Protection, there are more than 1 million homes in 43 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties that sit on top of abandoned mines that could be subject to subsidence or settling.
Although the state has a subsidized insurance program at affordable rates — just $97 per $150,000 of coverage — only 58,000 policies have been issued.
Homeowners whose property sits on top of working minds don’t need the coverage. By state law, mine owners are responsible for any damage caused by subsidence. This is not the case with abandoned mines and typically, standard homeowners policies don’t cover instances of subsidence.
The one “catch” in the program is that each structure on a property requires an independent policy. For instance, if a home has a detached garage, a separate policy must be taken out to cover that building.
Normally, subsidence does not cause the kind of catastrophic damage people may imagine. Cracks to sidewalks, foundations, and walls are most common, although it is possible for homes to tilt, sink, or collapse entirely.
In 2008, the DEP processed 227 claims of which 27 were approved and paid out, totaling just more than $1 million in damages.
Tom Hoffman, a former Consol Energy vice president living in the South Hills of Pennsylvania bought the coverage. “My house is 60 years old, and for 60 years there has not been any subsidence here,” he said. Recently, however, there was an incident of subsidence about a quarter of a mile away. “Like all insurance,” he said, “you may never use it.”