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A Cautionary Tale for Those with a Studio or Home Office

By Cornelia Seckel
ART TIMES Mar/ Apr 2010

You already have home insurance; now find out if you are covered for your home studio and workspace.

            It was Easter 2009 and Raymond J. Steiner, my husband and partner in ART TIMES, set about to do his usual spring maintenance on our tractor. The tractor (an old Wheel Horse) was kept in a wooden outbuilding, situated between two other wooden structures on our property in Saugerties, NY. The building held our lawn/garden equipment and was approximately 24 feet long. About twenty-five years ago Raymond had walled off one end — about a half of the entire building — and made it into a small, private study. It was where he read and studied and over the last ten years, since he resumed painting, it was also used to store painting materials and touch up his paintings which were done primarily en plein air.

When he started the tractor to move it outside the building, there was a burst of flames. He quickly jumped off the tractor, attempted to smother the fire but realized that the flames which appeared to be coming from the top of the battery were situated directly beneath the gas tank and it dawned on him that he was hanging over a full tank of gas and that he had better get out of the building. He ran to the house and dialed 911 to report the fire and then heard the explosions as our tiller, gas tanks and oil cans exploded and flames began to consume the building. Within minutes volunteer firemen and trucks arrived, but the fire had grown quickly and destroyed not only the shop structure and contents but caused tremendous smoke and water damage to his study/studio.

I called our insurance company to report the fire and an adjuster was sent out within a few days. He took all the information and questioned what the building was used for and specifically if Raymond was a professional artist since brushes, easels, and paint tubes were strewn on the ground. Had he sold any paintings? Had he had any exhibitions? Raymond does have a website which reflects his work as a writer, editor and painter. After all the paperwork was submitted to the insurance company and an examiner took a look at the damage (to determine cause of fire) we expected a settlement to be forthcoming. Well it didn’t and even before a second investigator (retired NYC policeman) came and interviewed and recorded each of us I began to feel that there was a problem that related to the building’s usage.

I called the State Insurance Agency and questioned how a “business” was defined. “Inventory and people traffic” were the criteria he explained. Then I called our agent and told them that it seemed that the Insurance Company was questioning the use of the outbuilding. The Insurance Company’s position was that since Raymond had been in a few art shows and sold a few paintings during the past several years he was a professional artist and therefore not covered by our homeowners’ insurance (which did include the outbuildings). I would call someone a professional if they are earning a living, putting effort into securing gallery exhibits, and actively selling their work. Well what about ART TIMES I said? We have had the ART TIMES office on the property in a separate wing of the house for the past 26 years. My insurance agent assured me that both ART TIMES and Raymond’s study/studio were covered in our homeowners’ policy.

Apparently that was not the case.
Five months later after we had retained a lawyer, given time-consuming examinations under oath, and submitted income tax returns for the past 5 years, a call came from our adjuster that a check would be coming within the week for the rebuilding of the structure and a check for the items lost. What a relief but what a huge personal toll it took.

Given this experience I began to ask artists and other people who have home offices whether they are covered by their homeowners’ policy. So many don’t want to ask the question. So many are concerned about the additional cost. The fact is that if you are using any part of your home/ property for a business and there are damages for which you would put in a claim, your insurance company may very well NOT PAY the claim.

So call your insurance agent/company. Find out if you are covered. Turns out that we are covered for a certain dollars figure to cover office equipment but not for loss of data. If I wanted to be covered for a higher amount there would be an additional fee of a few hundred dollars. In an office situation there are a few computers, printers and phones. An artist and crafts person has many more costly supplies. Don’t wait! I repeat, you already have insurance, now find out if your studio and work areas are covered.

(Cornelia Seckel is Publisher and Co-Founder of ART TIMES.)