(WSVN) - A surprise no homeowner wants: his insurance company said he needed a new roof. How did they know that? Because of a picture from a satellite circling the Earth. Can they inspect your roof from space? It’s tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Sometimes it’s good to buy a house from a contractor.

Nicholas Gadbois, roof was Googled: “A lot of the house had been upgraded. They had done the peaked roof. The flat roof is fairly new. It’s probably about 10 years old now.”

Nicholas thought that flat roof on the back of his house was in good shape until he got a letter in the mail.

Nicholas Gadbois: “From our insurance company stating that we needed to have a new flat roof put on.”

Nicholas was a little baffled since the roof didn’t leak and the insurance company hadn’t come out to inspect it, so he asked how they knew it was bad.

Nicholas Gadbois: “Based upon a Google image, it appears the roof needs to be replaced.”

That right. Nicholas says the insurance representative told him they used a Google satellite picture like this to determine his roof was no good.

Nicholas Gadbois: “You can’t tell anything from a Google image. You can’t zoom far enough on a Google image to get into the details.”

But Nicholas has to have insurance, so he contacted two roofers to get an estimate to replace the flat roof, and they gave him good news.

Nicholas Gadbois: “Both the contractors said, ‘Your roof didn’t need to be repaired.'”

Back to the insurance company to ask them to come inspect the roof in person.

Nicholas Gadbois: “They said they cannot send anyone out unless a claim is being filed. It doesn’t make sense to not come out and inspect the roof.”

Meaning Nicholas will have to spend $5,000 to $10,000 to replace a roof a roofer says is good, but a Google aerial says is bad.

Nicholas Gadbois: “My legal question is: Does an insurance company have the legal right to use a Google image to force a homeowner to get a new roof?”

He asked a legal question Howard. Time for you to go to work.

Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: “Believe it or not, an insurance company can use any method they want to inspect your roof, even from a satellite hundreds of miles away. That’s because they are taking the risk in insuring you, so they determine the criteria they use to assume that risk. Of course, Nicholas can tell them to take a hike, and they can say, ‘We are not renewing you.'”

We contacted Nicholas’ insurance company.

A rep told us, “We have a contract with a third-party company that uses artificial intelligence and high-resolution aerial imagery to help us determine roof condition.”

We asked to see that image and for the name of the third-party company.

Then, the insurance company rep said they did not use the company in Nicholas’ case, but declined to insure his roof because “we don’t write flat roofs that are older than 10 years.”

However, they added, they could offer Nicholas a different type of policy to cover his flat roof if he wanted to stay with them.

Howard Finkelstein: “If you don’t want to call insurance company after insurance company to find the best rates, contact an insurance broker who will do all that work for you and help you pick the best policy.”

Nicholas Gadbois: “Very happy with the help that Help Me Howard gave me.”

And he is happy with his insurance company after they agreed on a compromise.

Nicholas Gadbois: “And offered me a revised policy. I am happy with that.”

And why would Nicholas accept a policy without full coverage? Because, he says, that insurance company is cheaper than other companies.

Cost is important with insurance, which is another reason to shop around.

Feeling flat out irritated by a problem? Wanna insure you get it resolved? Contact us because we we have a fool proof policy. We cover every problem.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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