HomeHome InsuranceCouple lose insurance over artistic ‘debris’ – Silvercity Daily Press

Couple lose insurance over artistic ‘debris’ – Silvercity Daily Press

Couple lose insurance over artistic ‘debris’
Antonio and Constance Chavez stand among the art decorating their front yard on Gold Street in Silver City. The couple were recently informed that their homeowners insurance would not be renewed due to “excessive debris” in the yard, and said they had difficulty getting a clear definition of what that meant.
(Press Staff Photo by Juno Ogle)

A Silver City couple recently found themselves in a dilemma, receiving a notice that their homeowners insurance would not be renewed without a definite answer why.

The notice sent by Travelers Insurance to Tony and Constance Chavez only stated the couple’s policy would be allowed to expire due to “the unfavorable condition of the property,” which was described as “excessive debris in the yard.”

A spokesperson for Travelers Insurance said she could not discuss the Chavez notice on the record.

The Chavezes’ home on Gold Street is well-known for the decor in their front yard, which includes a collection of Native American-themed artwork and historic artifacts, including some from the Buffalo Bar. There’s also a large square with a large number of colorful marbles that Tony said is his tribute to COVID survivors, as well as memorials to people he’s known who have died.

“People stop by here all the time wanting to take pictures, or they want to come in,” Constance said. “Sometimes they just stand out there looking. Tony says, ‘You can come in if you want to.’”

She said her husband often gives people who visit one of the many key chains he’s made.

“Everybody who comes by here says they love it. Everybody knows our yard, and it’s not a bad yard,” Constance said.

It’s also somewhat of a sacred space for Tony, a Grant County native who is Chihene Nde Apache.

He said it is where he does his daily prayers, and he invites others to do so as well.

“All of this is for prayer and where they can come and relax,” Tony said. “Every type of whatever you belong to, I have it here, so they knew they could come.”

The artwork includes a number of crosses and artwork with Native American symbols.

Also in the front yard is a shed housing Tony’s art studio, where he etches and paints designs into mirrors, often ones that are broken or scratched. It began as a way to heal himself mentally, spiritually and physically from alcoholism early in his life, he said.

Friends advised the couple to look into the Native American Religious Freedom Act, a law passed in 1978 to protect the rights of Indigenous people to practice their traditional religions, but the couple said they aren’t sure if they will pursue any such action.

The couple had the insurance, purchased through Geico, for three years, and the notice they received in the mail in late September, stating their policy would be allowed to expire Sunday, was the first warning they had.

Tony said that after receiving the notice, he cleaned up the yard of weeds and other things that he thought could be considered debris.

“Nothing’s going to start a fire. It’s almost all metal,” he said.

Trying to get more information from Travelers was difficult and frustrating, he said, although the company did ask the couple to send photos of their property.

“I’m 84 years old. I don’t know how to text and do all this stuff,” Tony said.

“I downloaded the pictures to them, and they said I didn’t do it right,” Constance said.

She eventually did get the photos sent correctly, but the couple were then asked to send pictures of the front of their house, Constance said.

“I guess they didn’t get those right — but rather than having somebody call and talk to me or somebody come here, they just send the letter canceling us, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.

Not having that clear communication has been the couple’s biggest frustration, they said.

“They never said what, why, where. He worked for days. He worked super-hard to make sure that there was nothing that was flammable. He did everything and just no reason, no nothing. Just the word ‘debris.’ I think that’s wrong,” Constance said. “If it was something a little more self-explanatory, if it was something we could correct, then we would correct it.”

The couple did obtain home insurance from another company, they said, and on Monday, Constance told the Daily Press they had received a call from Travelers Insurance offering to reinstate their policy. They refused the offer.

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