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Retaining walls and insurance

What is a retaining wall?

A retaining wall is any wall that holds back soil or other material on one side of the wall, i.e., where the ground or surface levels on either side of the wall differ in height. Retaining walls are typically constructed as a sheer vertical wall or a Loffelstein-type block wall.

By virtue of their nature and purpose, retaining walls are subject to different influences and pressures when compared with other walls such as boundary or load-bearing walls. As such, a specialised design and criteria apply when erecting a retaining wall. These criteria are determined and approved by experienced engineers to ensure the wall will meet the requirements of a particular environment.

It is not uncommon to see a boundary wall become a retaining wall due to changes within the environment surrounding the wall. At best, such a situation is an accident waiting to happen.

Insuring a retaining wall

In terms of (most) all buildings combined insurance policy wording, cover for retaining walls under the storm, wind, water, hail, and snow peril is specifically excluded. Due to the nature of retaining walls, the underwriter requires qualified intervention before cover will be granted. As such, the insurer will require an engineer’s stability report before they will agree to issue cover. When cover is issued, it is noted separately on the policy documentation with its own insured value and will most certainly be subject to an additional premium.

While many insurers require the re-submission of an engineer’s report prior to issuing cover for each new period of insurance, some insurers may only require this every few years. It is vital that clients check the insurers’ requirements each year to ensure their cover is correctly renewed and not compromised.

Be aware of the following issues:

Defective or ineffective construction

Some developers have been known to cut corners and erect retaining walls contrary to engineers’ specifications. Such actions often do not come to light for some time and when they do, it is often with catastrophic consequences for the property owner. Insurers will not provide cover where defective or ineffective construction is the cause of the incident that caused the damage. Clients should keep a close watch on their property and at the first sign of possible or actual damage occurring, a suitably qualified contractor must be called on immediately to assess the situation.


Be it by a property owner, a tenant, or even mother nature, a boundary wall can become a retaining wall – or just a retaining wall being exposed to excessive pressure for which it was not designed. Changing soil levels in a garden through landscaping, the build-up or wash away of vegetation or support, or the invasion of roots and vegetation can compromise the integrity of a wall. Where the potential for such influences exists, the condition of a wall should be monitored closely in order to avoid loss or damage occurring. If and when such a situation arises and damage occurs, it is improbable that your insurer will provide compensation for the loss – unless appropriate cover has been arranged in advance.

Retaining walls are a common feature in many properties, especially where maximum utilization of surface area is required. When a retaining wall fails, the consequences can be pretty devastating and very costly. If specific cover is not included, there will be no compensation offered through the insurance policy.

As a trustee or property owner, if you are not sure whether you have cover, do not hesitate to ask your broker to check and advise you accordingly.

Author: Bruce Gibson

Addsure is South Africa’s leading sectional title insurance brokerage. Obtain fit and proper advice from advisors who understand sectional title. Contact our head office, Cape Town (021) 551 5069 who will put you directly in touch with one of our nationwide advisors.