May 2022


Hannah Morse, Palm Beach Post

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Hannah Morse, Palm Beach Post

Wed, May 18, 2022, 2:15 PM·10 min read

An air of uncertainty is brought onto Florida residents every year between the months of June and November. While meteorologists’ predictions may attempt to guess how many named storms may wash over the state, and how strong each may be, nothing is ever certain.

This hurricane season, homeowners are dealing with an added layer of unpredictability — the ability to insure their propertieslet alone volatility in premiums and deductibles. Plus, monthly electric bills could bump up next year to pay for storm hardening projects.

Some insurers are dropping clients, others are no longer writing policies in the state, while those keeping customers may in some cases double policy renewal rates. In the worst case, they’ve gone belly-up altogether.

‘Insurer of last resort’ requests rate increase as policies expected to hit 1M

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Related: How early is too early to start preparing for hurricane season in Florida?

Hurricane season concerns: Influx of newcomers, COVID variants

It’s an issue that has been bubbling for the past year and a half. Mostly to blame, industry experts say, is the vast amount of litigation against insurance companies fueled by so-called free roof-replacement schemes.

That trend has left thousands of homeowners automatically in the hands of another insurance provider, left to wade the waters of the dwindling private market to find new coverage or end up at the doorstep of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state-backed, longtime insurer of last resort.

“We’re in a very precarious position right now,” said Mark Friedlander, corporate communications director with the Insurance Information Institute. “We’re continuing to see deteriorating conditions for many insurers. It’s not a good situation for homeowners and certainly not a good situation for insurers as well.”

So far this year, three property insurance companies serving Florida homeowners have gone into receivership, with a fourth, FedNat Insurance Group, having its financial stability rating downgraded in April, the first sign of an insurer in trouble.

One of the top 10 largest home insurers in Florida with 152,000 policyholders, FedNat and its related companies must now cancel 68,200 policies in a plan approved by the state insurance regulator. Demotech, the rating company, said more insurers are being watched closely.

Few insurers forcing homeowners to use ‘surplus line’ insurers

Fewer insurers on the private market are leading homeowners to “surplus lines” insurers or state-supported Citizens. A surplus line insurer isn’t regulated by the state and therefore doesn’t have the cushion of the Florida Insurance Guaranty Associationwhich was created by the legislature to pay claims from insolvent insurers. Should the surplus line insurer go into receivership before claims are paid out, the homeowner won’t get paid.

Citizens is on track to have more than 1 million policies on its books by the end of the year, which hasn’t been seen since 2013. Around 400,000 policies is Citizens’ sweet spot, said spokesperson Michael Peltier, but the insurer has more than doubled that number — and growing. Last year, Citizens was gaining between 3,500 and 4,500 policies a week; now the average is 6,500 policies a week.

The state-run insurer has a healthy $6.5 billion surplus, Peltier said. But as it gains and holds more and more policies because of the volatile marketplace, the risk grows where a one-in-100-year storm could wipe out that cushion.

If that happens and money from Citizens runs out to pay claims, all property insurance holders will be charged.

“We don’t want to be in that position,” Peltier said. “The best thing to do is have a healthy private insurance market.”

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Special session is called to address property insurance market issues

Lawmakers will be headed back to Tallahassee for a second special session this month, set to end just as hurricane season begins, to address problems with the property insurance market that they failed to attempt during the regular session.

Whatever lawmakers do decide, if anything, won’t be a silver bullet fix, Friedlander said.

“The issues we’re facing today will not disappear. If they pass meaningful legislation, your bill is not going to decrease soon,” he said.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who led the call for a special session on insurance reform, said a direct storm hit in Florida would lead to more damage, more claims and therefore an “absolute spike in litigation.”

“While I believe a storm wouldn’t be a problem for most insurance companies, multiple storms would be devastating,” he said.

One of the solutions Brandes said he would like to see proposed during the five-day session includes reducing rates paid by insurers into the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which he said would result in $1 billion in savings for consumers.

The purpose of the fund, created after Hurricane Andrew 30 years ago this August, is to reimburse insurers for part of their hurricane-related losses and serves as a state-run reinsurance option, essentially back-up capital, that may be a less expensive option for insurers, meaning fewer costs passed onto customers.

“That’s just a tourniquet. That’s just a triage and keeps them alive for a few months,” Brandes said.

Other issues that he said should be addressed include allowing more flexibility in the types of insurance policies offered and tweaking the building code as it relates to roof repairs.

“This is the worst property insurance market in Florida’s history,” Brandes said. “People need to know how damaging it will be if the Legislature does not resolve these issues.”

As hurricane season nears, now’s the time to do an ‘insurance checkup’

State Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat from Miami who is running for governor, wasn’t confident in the outcome of this month’s special session.

“I think it’s going to be window dressing for election purposes, and it’s not really going to bring down (the cost of) people’s policies,” she said.

Taddeo hoped any proposal seeking savings for consumers must make sure those savings are actually passed onto consumers.

“Instead what ends up happening is the bills continue to go up and they cover less,” she said.

Taddeo acknowledged that a number of factors are affecting the property insurance market, but if one key issue was fraudulent roofing schemes, that should be addressed with full force.

“We don’t pass laws to say that you will not only have to pay this much, but you will lose your license and you won’t be able to open another business in another name here,” she said. “That’s what we should be doing, so that then you’re able to reduce the wrongdoing.”

Ahead of the start of hurricane season, homeowners should do an “insurance checkup” with their agent and take stock of their coverage to ensure that it’s adequate enough to cover the inflated cost of repairs and labor, Friedlander said.

Other tips include keeping important documents in one, easy-to-access place; taking photo and video inventory of your property; trimming vegetation away from your house; and coming up with an emergency plan with the people who live there.

FPL storm-hardening could trickle down into customer’s bills

Property insurance isn’t the only storm-adjacent cost increase that residents seem to face every year.

Florida Power & Light customers could see a slight bump in their monthly bills to pay for the utility’s ongoing, annual storm-hardening projects.

Currently, a FPL customer who uses 1,000 kilowatts hours of energy each month pays $2.14 in their bill for the utility’s storm protection plan that fortifies the grid. This year, FPL wants to charge an extra $1.70 a month, or an additional $20.40 a year.

Related: How FPL’s new $1.2M fixed-wing hurricane drone will work and what it will do

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FPL crews replace a wooden feeder pole with a concrete one along Roebuck Road in Jupiter, Florida on April 27, 2022.
FPL crews replace a wooden feeder pole with a concrete one along Roebuck Road in Jupiter, Florida on April 27, 2022.

This increase will cover the expected $4.7 million that FPL says it will have undercharged customers for this year’s storm-protection plan.

The fee goes toward projects such as inspecting 1.4 million distribution poles; replacing wooden transmission poles with concrete ones; raising equipment at substations to protect against storm surge; and managing vegetation around the utility’s equipment.

These kinds of non-descript upgrades appear to hide in plain sight, save for a minor traffic interruption as the work is done. On a recent morning in Jupiter, crews worked on replacing a wooden feeder pole with a concrete one along Roebuck Road. A truck with a mounted crane carefully lifted the concrete pole up and over energized lines carrying 13,000 volts, and settled it next to the old pole.

A project like this may not appear like much of an improvement, but it could mean the difference between having an outage for a few hours versus a few days.

Wally Woodard, operations manager with FPL.
Wally Woodard, operations manager with FPL.

“I have a lot of friends and family who live in the area, and when they see this kind of investment, they really recognize, ‘Wow, I see my bill at work,’” said Wally Woodard, operations manager with FPL. “To share this with 5 million customers, it’s not a huge impact to each individual.”

Following the disastrous hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, utilities have been required by the regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission to boost resiliency and the ability to recover quicker from future storms.

In a filing with the PSC, FPL compared the speed at which it was able to restore power between Wilma in 2005 and Irma in 2017. Wilma had 3.2 million outages and took an average of 5.4 days to restore power, whereas Irma left 4.4 million without power and took an average of 2.1 days to restore power.

A man secures tarps to his house in Delray Beach after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Following the disastrous hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, utilities have been required to boost resiliency and the ability to recover quicker from future storms. FPL said it had 3.2 million outages because of Wilma and it took an average of 5.4 days to restore power. But after 2017's Hurricane Irma knocked out power to 4.4 million, it took FPL an average of 2.1 days to restore power.
A man secures tarps to his house in Delray Beach after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Following the disastrous hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, utilities have been required to boost resiliency and the ability to recover quicker from future storms. FPL said it had 3.2 million outages because of Wilma and it took an average of 5.4 days to restore power. But after 2017’s Hurricane Irma knocked out power to 4.4 million, it took FPL an average of 2.1 days to restore power.

The costs for these projects were folded into the utility’s base rate, which is decided every three to five years. But in 2019, lawmakers approved a carveout charge just for storm-hardening projects, for which utilities can request fee changes at the PSC each year. Utilities are also required to submit a 10-year outlook every three years.

The Juno Beach-based utility said it plans to spend nearly $14.9 billion through 2032 on these projects, according to FPL’s 10-year storm protection plan submitted last month.

FPL also proposing project to prepare for extreme winter weather

It will continue storm management projects already in place while proposing two additional kinds of projects: “winterization” of its power plants, as part of its effort to prepare for extreme winter weather and improving access to transmission facilities by building roads, bridges and culverts at these sites.

Motivated by last year’s deadly Texas storm, FPL’s winterization plan will include replacing equipment to better handle high electricity loads.

Those projects are likely to happen between 2023 and 2026 and cost more than $150 million, according to the utility’s proposal. Projects addressing transmission facility access are expected to cost $117 million.

If the PSC approves this request, the new charges would go into effect next year.

Hannah Morse covers consumer issues for The Palm Beach Post. Drop a line at hmorse@pbpost.com, call 561-820-4833 or follow her on Twitter @mannahhorse.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Hurricane season: Florida property insurance market unpredictable

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By William Rabb 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Recent moves by two Florida insurers to limit litigation and restoration expenses – and regulators’ approval of those policy endorsements – have met with a constitutional challenge from contractors. One Florida law professor said the suit is likely to see some success in court, but only on a technicality.

And the broader tenets of the complaint could soon be rendered moot, depending on what steps the state Legislature takes when it meets next week in a special session on the property insurance crisis.

The lawsuit filed in Tallahassee this week charges that Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier exceeded his authority when his Office of Insurance Regulation approved an arbitration endorsement this year for American Integrity Insurance Co. and a restriction on assignment-of-benefits agreements filed by Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co.

The policy changes strip policyholders of their rights to seek remedy in court and deprives contractors of the benefits of AOBs, which are ensured by statue and by court decisions, the suit argues.

Altmaier

“Commissioner Altmaier has been interviewed on occasion and he stated that the Office of Insurance Regulation can assist where the Legislature fails – a rather mystifying statement that disregards the traditional notion of separation of powers in our system of state government,” reads the complaint.

The suit was filed by Boca Raton attorney Joshua Alper and the Washington-based Center for Constitutional Litigation, a law firm that assist trial lawyers in appeals and constitutional challenges. The plaintiffs are Restoration Association of Florida, which represents contractors who specialize in water damage remediation, and Air Quality Assessors Inc., an Orlando mold assessment firm.

American Integrity created quite a stir when it was approved for the binding arbitration provision for homeowners policies in February. The endorsement offers homeowners discounts on premiums if they agree to settle claims disputes in mediation. If that doesn’t work, the disputes would go to binding arbitration.

Now, other insurers are considering similar endorsements as a way to avoid the high cost of litigation, which carriers have repeatedly said is out of control in Florida. Heritage Insurance, in fact, in late April filed for an even tougher endorsement, one that requires arbitration for most claims disputes and would not be optional.

That endorsement has not been approved by OIR, and is not mentioned in the Restoration Associates lawsuit. But another Heritage policy change was approved by OIR in March and is the subject of the complaint. The professional services exclusion states flatly that Heritage will not reimburse contractors, engineers, inspections or other professional services ordered by the policyholder. That presumably means that the carrier will only reimburse the insured.

Another approved exclusion notes that the policy won’t cover services unless Heritage approves the contractor ahead of time. Both clauses violate Florida law, the complaint charges.

“AOB rights cannot generally be divested by an insurer through policy language,” the lawsuit reads, citing “an unbroken string of Florida lawsuits over the past century holding that policyholders have the right to assign such claims without insurer consent.”

The American Integrity endorsement, as approved by Florida regulators, will confuse policyholders, the plaintiffs argue. It states in only one section that state law allows homeowners to sue in court over unfair claims practices.

But attorneys on both sides of the insurance divide, along with a Florida law professor, said the suit stands little chance of succeeding on the constitutional issues. Previous court decisions have repeatedly held that insurance policies are contracts and insureds don’t have much say on the terms, explained West Palm Beach attorney Gina Clausen Lozier, who has represented policyholders.

Other court opinions have upheld arbitration requirements in insurance policies, said Ashlyn Capote, a New York insurance attorney. Last December, for example, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in Cypress Cove at Suntree Condominium Assn. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London, dismissed a suit by the policyholder, upholding arbitration under the circumstances of the case.

In the Restoration Association suit, only on one argument is likely to succeed, explained Robert Jarvis, who teaches constitutional law and contract law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. The complaint points out that the two insurers’ policy filings were not notarized, which would have certified that they complied with the Florida Insurance Code.

“Assuming this fact is true, the case can (and should) be decided on that ground alone,” Jarvis said in an email Wednesday.

Courts generally avoid deciding constitutional issues until they have to, and Leon County Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey will probably do that here since she can decide the case on the notarization argument, Jarvis said. But at some point, the constitutional question may come up again, in Leon County or another court, he said.

On that angle, the case is likely to be dismissed. The arbitration endorsement did not violate state law, so the insurance commissioner’s approval of it did not violate the state constitution’s separation, Jarvis said.

“The Florida Supreme Court has made it clear that consumers can waive their economic rights so long as they do so knowingly,” the professor said.

The high court, in a case involving attorneys fees in medical malpractice claims, noted that economic rights can almost always be waived. The right to remain silent, under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, is often waived.

“Given this language, I tell my students when I teach Article 1, Section 26 (of the Florida Constitution) that one would have to look very hard to find an economic right that cannot be bargained away,” Jarvis explained. “A person could not agree to become a slave, because slavery is against Florida’s public policy, but that’s how extreme things would have to be for a public policy argument to succeed. Clearly, choosing to pay a lower premium for reduced insurance coverage is not extreme enough—not even close.”

On the question of confusion to the policyholder, the law professor suggested that a judge may find that the policy language could be clearer, but so could lots of wording in the English language. A plaintiff could still argue that they did not fully understand the arbitration clause, but American Integrity may be betting that few consumers will be able to show that didn’t know what they were signing.

Of course, the Legislature at its special session next week could render the lawsuit moot by approving statutory changes that allow more arbitration requirements in insurance policies. Sources have said that is one key issue that Senate lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis are considering.

American Integrity and Heritage may have strong answers to the the lawsuit complaint, Laura Pearce of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents wrote in a blog Thursday.

“However, I also can’t help but wonder if this lawsuit might prompt the Legislature, during the special session, to further consider the issues raised in the lawsuit and to craft legislation to clarify that these policy changes are options that should be provided to consumers to help reduce property insurance premiums,” she wrote.

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WRITTEN BYWilliam Rabb

Rabb is Southeast Editor for Insurance Journal. He is a long-time newspaper man in the Deep South; also covered workers’ comp insurance issues for a trade publication for a few years.

By Corina Cappabianca Washington D.C. Bureau

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

WASHINGTON — Soaring costs of homeowners insurance has become a crisis in Florida, and between bad storms and other factors, the rates keep rising as companies move out of the market. 


What You Need To Know

 Florida residents have seen dramatic increases in the cost of property insurance recently
 Experts say the growing risk of catastrophic hurricanes, labor shortages caused by the pandemic and fraudulent claims are causing companies to stop doing business in Florida altogether
The Florida Legislature is scheduled to hold a special session next week to work on addressing the issue

Next week Florida’s state legislature is holding a special session on property insurance reform — Gov. Ron DeSantis says the goal is to stabilize the market.

Florida resident Jason Battle says dealing with homeowners insurance has been frustrating. In February last year, his policy unexpectedly jumped  from about $2,400 to around $4,000. And, this past September, he was dealt another blow when he filed a claim. 

“A tree fell on my roof and so I filed insurance for it, and then after filing for the insurance they just dropped after that,” he said. 

Battle says his insurance carrier dropped his coverage about two months ago because it couldn’t agree with his contractor over the amount of repairs necessary. 

He has a policy with another insurer now, but said something needs to be done to reform property insurance in the state. 

Citing the growing risk of catastrophic hurricanes, labor shortages caused by the pandemic and fraudulent claims, some insurance companies are getting out of Florida. 

“You have all these factors coming together, which are having an impact on why you’re seeing rates go up, you know, so high over the past four or five years,” said Federal Association for Insurance Reform President Paul Handerhan.

“We have 8% of the property claims nationwide, and we have 78% of the litigation nationwide,” DeSantis said Monday. “That is causing these premiums to escalate.”

Democratic congressman Charlie Crist, who is running for governor in Florida, said he has little faith DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature will approve reforms beneficial to homeowners. 

Crist has introduced legislation in Congress that he says would drive premiums lower by creating a “federal backstop for catastrophic losses,” allowing insurance carriers to purchase less reinsurance​.

“If we reduce how much they have to have in reinsurance, that savings that insurance companies get can be passed on to the consumer, lowering the cost of insurance, statewide and nationwide for homeowners in Florida and the country,” Crist said. 

Crist’s bill does not currently have any co-sponsors yet, leading some experts to say it faces long odds for passage. 

Battle said he doesn’t know what the best solution is, but that lawmakers at all levels of government should be working to fix the problem. ​

“They should all work together local, federal and state,” he said. “The key is people have to live here. So we need to be happy insured, and that’s important.”

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday expressed confidence that a special legislative session will help stabilize Florida’s property-insurance system, but the troubled market is taking another blow as a group of companies is poised to cancel more than 68,000 policies.

“The good news is, on property insurance, I think we’re going to get really, really significant reforms,” DeSantis said during an appearance at Seminole State College of Florida.

DeSantis made the comments a week before the May 23 start of a special session that he called to address property-insurance problems that have led to homeowners losing policies and facing huge rate hikes.

The comments also came three days after the state Office of Insurance Regulation approved an agreement that will lead to FedNat Insurance Co., Maison Insurance Co. and Monarch National Insurance Co. canceling 68,200 policies, with 45 days’ notice to policyholders. The three insurers are part of the same holding company.

The agreement, known as a consent order, said the early cancellation of policies is an “extraordinary statutory remedy reserved to address insurers which are or may be in hazardous financial condition without the cancellation of some or all of its policies.”

“After review of the information filed in support of this request, and considering all of the attendant facts and circumstances, the office finds that approval of the early cancellation plan filed by the companies is necessary to protect the best interests of its policyholders and the public,” the agreement said.

DeSantis did not provide details of changes he expects lawmakers to pass during the special session. But he indicated that lawmakers could try to curb litigation over insurance claims, an issue that insurers have long blamed for financial losses.

“That is causing these premiums to escalate,” DeSantis said. “And so we have to address that. It’s something that is very important.”

Other potential issues could include trying to address the availability and affordability of reinsurance, which is critical backup coverage for insurers. Reinsurance is a key part of policyholders’ rates and affects decisions about how much coverage insurers can write.

The House and Senate could not reach agreement during this year’s regular session on a property-insurance bill, with the Senate wanting to go further than the House to bolster the insurance industry. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said more time was needed to see the results of changes made in a 2021 insurance law.

DeSantis on Monday said the 2021 law had some “good stuff.”

“But it just didn’t do enough, I think, to really stabilize this situation,” he said. “And so that’s going to be what we’re trying to do, and I think that is something we must do.”

Three Florida property insurers — Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp., Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co. and St. Johns Insurance Co. — have been declared insolvent and gone into receivership since February.

Also, the Office of Insurance Regulation will hold three hearings Tuesday on proposals by First Floridian Auto and Home Insurance Co., Kin Interinsurance Network and Florida Farm Bureau General Insurance Co. and Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co. that would raise homeowners’ rates by more than 20 percent.

The agreement reached Friday will lead to 56,500 FedNat Insurance Co. policies being canceled and another 83,000 FedNat policies moving to Monarch National Insurance Co. It also cited a plan to “wind down the operation” of FedNat.

About 8,400 Monarch policies and all 3,300 of Maison Insurance Co.’s Florida policies will be canceled. Also, a new investor will put capital into Monarch, though details of that investment were not included in the consent order.

It is not clear where the 68,200 canceled policyholders will find coverage, particularly because they will be looking for new insurance around the beginning of hurricane season. With other insurers dropping policies, the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. had grown to 851,000 policies as of the end of April — up from 589,000 policies a year earlier.

Citizens, which was created as an insurer of last resort, has typically picked up 20 to 25 percent of the policies that have been shed when financially troubled companies went into receivership, said Michael Peltier, a Citizens spokesman. At least part of the policies from FedNat, Monarch and Maison are expected to wind up with Citizens.

“It’s not going to be all of them,” Peltier said. “But it’ll be a chunk.”

During a call last week with analysts, Michael Braun, chief executive officer of FedNat Holding Co., which includes FedNat Insurance, Monarch and Maison, acknowledged the problems in the market are having far-ranging effects.

“It’s very difficult on the policyholders, it’s very difficult on the agents, it’s very disruptive. People are having a lot of trouble finding coverage. Citizens (Property Insurance) is growing exponentially,” Braun said.

BrightWay insurance agent Matt Carlucci II said the customers who were dropped will have 45 days to find new insurance, but notices for who exactly is being dropped likely won’t go out until the end of the month.

“You will get a letter. You may not hear from us or see from us in the next couple of weeks, but we are aware and we are working on it, so just sit tight,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci explained what those customers should be doing right now.

“What you’re going to do because you’re going to have to get a new policy and nine times out of 10 you need a four-point inspection and you need a wind mitigation inspection and typically you can get both of those for $100. Get it done quick because these inspectors are in the same boat. They are getting backed up by this. That will help your agent get you a new policy very quickly,” he said.

And while customers of FedNat Insurance Co. may want to shop around for insurance, Carlucci said they should hold off until they find out if they’re officially getting dropped.

“Because you might be apart of that 60% that gets to stay,” he said.

And if those customers don’t recieve a letter in the next couple of weeks and are concerned that getting dropped, Carlucci said then it’s time for them to call their agent.

News Service of Florida/Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Jim Saunders

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998.

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Lauren Verno

Lauren Verno anchors the 9 a.m. hour of The Morning Show and is the consumer investigative reporter weekday afternoons.

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By William Rabb 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Ahead of next week’s special legislative session, Florida’s chief financial officer is asking lawmakers for $6.5 million to fund 23 new investigative positions and to launch a public education campaign, part of his proposal to combat insurance fraud and reduce losses for insurers.

CFO Jimmy Patronis, whose Department of Financial Services oversees insurance fraud investigations and public adjusters, also is urging legislators to tweak state law to allow whistleblowers to recover damages in insurance fraud cases. Another part of his five-point plan would grant $25,000 rewards to people who provide information leading to the arrest, not the conviction, of persons engaged in alleged fraud.

Patronis

“Florida communities are under attack by fraudsters who are willing to try anything to game the system. They are stealing from us all!” Patronis said at a news conference last week. “To win this war, we need the troops, the weapons, and a full commitment to the mission.”

The funding source would be up to the Legislature but could come from the state’s Insurance Regulatory Trust Fund, which is funded partly by insurer payments, or from the state’s general fund, a spokesman for Patronis said. DFS does not yet have a sponsor for a funding bill but is working with legislative staff, communications director Devin Galetta said.

Some $3 million would go to the education campaign and $3.5 million would be needed for three additional anti-fraud squads, bringing the total number of DFS fraud teams to five. The new squads would include 15 detectives and three supervisors; three attorneys and an administrator to prosecute cases; and an analyst to expedite investigations, DFS explained.

Some lawmakers and insurance industry leaders have questioned why DFS has not pursued insurance fraud more aggressively already, since fraudulent roof and water-damage claims have been cited as a leading cause of loss costs and loss adjustment expenses. The DFS received more than 1,700 tips or reports on suspected insurance fraud in 2021, but just 14 people were convicted, Tampa TV station WFLA reported last week.

Smith

“So we started at 1,700 and we held accountable 14 convictions. That concerns me a little bit,” said state Rep. David Smith, R- Seminole.

At a legislative committee hearing last fall, the DFS fraud team director said that homeowner insurance fraud is difficult to prove and time-consuming to prosecute. Patronis also said that state laws don’t specifically outlaw some practices. Statutes prohibit contractors from offering to pay an insured’s deductible, but there are ways around that and proving intent can be tricky.

“I can always use more help but the help that we really need is with the Florida Legislature to close the loopholes that are allowing the gaming of the system. That is what’s driving your insurance rates up,” Patronis told WFLA news.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called the special session for May 23-27, after the regular session of the Florida Legislature this spring failed to pass significant measures addressing the insurance crisis in the state. Three property insurers have become insolvent this year and a third will wind down operations soon. Policyholders across the state have seen premiums increase sharply as insurers blame storm damage, fraudulent roof claims and extreme amounts of claims litigation for mounting losses.

In his proclamation convening the session, DeSantis outlined a number of proposals that will be on the agenda. One of those is appropriations and another mentions the state Office of Insurance Regulation. OIR is housed under DFS, but the governor’s proclamation did not specifically name the Department of Financial Services.

Patronis surprised many across Florida at the news conference last Thursday when he said that the session should also ban the bundling of assignment of benefits agreements.

“We cannot allow law firms, or public adjusters, to get in the business of bundling AOBs and selling them for profit like a security,” Patronis said in a statement. “I want to deter a feeding frenzy of bad actors from going after consumers to sell AOBs on the open market.”

He did not provide further information about the bundling practices, who is engaged in it, or how it works. A staff member did not provide further details by Monday morning.

The practice of bundling financial instruments and selling them as investments reared its head during the U.S. housing bubble of the mid-2000s. Investment banks bundled thousands of home mortgages, known as collaterized debt obligations or CDOs, and sold them to investors.

By William Rabb 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Starting today, May 16, Florida insurance agents and 68,000 policyholders will have 45 days to find new homeowners and dwelling coverage, under a financial restructuring plan submitted by FedNat Insurance and its sister companies.

But unlike an insolvency, FedNat Insurance Co. will not be liquidated, and will continue to pay some open claims, at least for a while. That could help the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association avoid having to, once again, raise the assessment on other insurers, industry insiders said.

“The early cancellation of policies … is an extraordinary statutory remedy reserved to address insurers which are or may be in hazardous financial condition without the cancellation of some or all of its policies,” reads a May 13 consent order filed by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

FedNat’s short-notice restructuring plan was ordered by the OIR in April after the Demotech rating firm downgraded FedNat’s financial standing, from “A exceptional” to “S substantial.” The rating suggests that FedNat still has substantial reserves, but that’s not enough for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which don’t recognize the S rating. That could have forced thousands of insureds to find new coverage.

Some type of restructuring was not unexpected, after the publicly traded FedNat Holding Co. reported more than $103 million in net losses in 2021 and $31 million in losses for the first quarter of this year. FedNat Insurance also announced in November that it was pulling out of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. Last week, FedNat Holding Co. notified the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it was unable to file its 10-Q financial report on time.

The Florida cancellations will mean further anguish for agents and for homeowners who, just two weeks before the start of hurricane season, are now facing a tightened market with fewer carriers, higher premiums, and more policy restrictions.

“I don’t know what companies will be willing to take on these policies,” state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper.

He surmised that most of the insureds will have to turn to Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-created insurer of last resort that has ballooned and will soon become the largest carrier in the state.

FedNat, based in Sunrise, Florida, on Friday sent a notice to its agents, explaining some information about the sudden changes. Some 56,500 FedNat Insurance policies will be canceled, including HO-3, HO-4, HO-6, and DP-3 policies. Sister company Maison Insurance, which is not domiciled in Florida, will drop some 3,300 policies.

Monarch National, based in Florida, will cancel about 8,400 policies but will also take on FedNat’s remaining 83,000 policies, according to the consent order.

Braun (FedNat)

Monarch also has struck a deal to be purchased and to obtain a capital infusion through an investor, according to the May 13 consent order. The order, signed by FedNat President Michael Braun, did not name the investors, but said that the cancellation of the policies was a condition of the investment agreement and reinsurance plan.

FedNat Insurance was founded in 1992 and until just a few years ago was listed as the fourth-largest P&C carrier in Florida. It will now stop writing new policies and will move to wind down operations, the consent order notes. Further details about FedNat’s restructuring plan have been listed as “trade secrets” and are not publicly available from OIR.

FedNat’s notice to agents wasn’t so definite about FedNat winding down. It was careful to note that the FedNat companies are not going out of business, but “are shrinking under a plan being reviewed” by Florida OIR.

“The companies are continuing to have active conversations with the OIR about the remaining policies that have not been cancelled,” the memo to agents reads. “Additional information will be shared once the OIR has completed its review.”

The memo continued: “We regret having to take this action. This cancellation has been issued as part of a financial restructuring plan by the companies to reduce their exposure in Florida. The plan includes the cancellation of approximately 68,200 homeowners policies that pose an inordinate risk to their financial condition.”

Official notices were to be sent today to agents. All affected policies, including those recently renewed, will be cancelled effective 11:59 p.m. local time on June 29, 2022, the notice reads. Unearned premiums should be returned to policyholders between June 15 and July 1.

Unearned commissions from agents may be due soon.

“When the company refunds unearned premiums to insureds, agents are required to refund unearned commissions to the company,” the FedNat memo explained. “Your upcoming commission statement will reflect commissions owed from the unearned premium we refunded to your insured due to our consent order regarding the cancellation of the affected policies.”

The company and the consent order said that reinsurance, expected to spike in price for many carriers in coming weeks, has played a role in the need for the restructuring. FedNat’s current catastrophe reinsurance program expires on June 30, and FedNat Insurance and Monarch both indicated that without the reorganization, they were unable to secure adequate reinsurance and to maintain surplus as required by law.

The FedNat companies will continue to handle claims with dates prior to the cancellation date and FedNat and Monarch must continue to file monthly financial statements with OIR, until further notice.

When FedNat Insurance does wind down its operations, it will be the fourth Florida property insurer to become insolvent or to cease operations in the last five months. This year has seen insolvency for St. Johns Insurance, Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance and Lighthouse Property Insurance Co., which was domiciled in Louisiana but held 13,200 policies in Florida.

Some carriers have taken other steps to reduce losses in what insurers have called a Florida market beset with excessive litigation, storm losses, and fraudulent roof

claims. Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance, facing heavy net losses this year, announced last month that it had filed for an endorsement on homeowners policies, requiring binding arbitration for claims disputes, beginning July 1.

Last week, Universal Property & Casualty Insurance, the largest market-based property insurer in the state, said it had expanded HO writing to several counties – St. Lucie, Brevard, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties, and will now write older homes, up to those built in 1976, in those areas. But roofs must be no older than 10 years, regardless of type of roof material.

Universal’s net income had improved significantly since the end of 2021, after the company dropped almost 60,000 policies in the last 12 months, the carrier reported in April.

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WRITTEN BYWilliam Rabb

Rabb is Southeast Editor for Insurance Journal. He is a long-time newspaper man in the Deep South; also covered workers’ comp insurance issues for a trade publication for a few

Homeowners insurance is essential, so it’s important to understand how it works and how to get it

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Homeowners insurance can help cover the cost of repairing your home if it’s damaged. Learn more about homeowners insurance basics. (Shutterstock)

Homeowners insurance is a product you never want to use, but will certainly be glad to have if you do. This type of insurance helps pay to repair or replace your home and property if it’s damaged in an unexpected event, like a fire, accident, or crime. If you have a mortgage, you’re likely required to have a policy, but homeowners insurance is a good idea even if it’s not mandatory. 

Let’s go over how homeowners insurance works, the different types of policies, and how to get a quote.

With Credible, you can easily compare homeowners insurance quotes from top insurance carriers.

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What is homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance is a policy that helps to restore, rebuild, or replace your home and property should they suffer damage in an unforeseen circumstance, called a peril. Your homeowners insurance policy has other coverage features as well, including paying to cover your legal expenses if someone injures themselves while on your property, or if you’re sued.

Like most types of insurance, you pay a monthly or annual premium to an insurance company for your policy — some carriers even let you pay quarterly or semiannually. If your home or property is damaged, you file a claim to receive a payout.

If you have a mortgage, you may not realize that you’re paying a homeowners insurance premium. In most cases, lenders require you to pay for homeowners insurance as part of your monthly mortgage payment. The lender holds the money in an escrow account and handles the payment for you.

Types of homeowners insurance policies

The type of homeowners insurance policy you need depends on the type of home you live in and how broad you’d like your coverage to be. Keep in mind, the more coverage you have in your policy, the more expensive your premium tends to be. 

Here are the eight basic types of homeowners insurance:

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HO-1: Basic form

Basic form is a type of bare-bones homeowners insurance policy. These policies are relatively uncommon, with insurance companies generally offering more comprehensive policies. With HO-1, you’ll only be covered if your home or property is damaged in a limited number of events, including:

  • Fire or lightning
  • Windstorm or hail
  • Vandalism
  • Theft
  • Damage from vehicles or aircraft
  • Explosions
  • Riots

HO-2: Broad form

Broad form offers more coverage than basic form. With HO-2, you receive coverage for everything included in HO-1, plus a few other common ways your home can be damaged. The additional covered perils include:

  • Building collapse
  • Freezing, leaking, or burst plumbing pipes
  • Freezing or leaking HVAC or appliances
  • The weight of ice, snow, or sleet accumulation
  • Falling objects

HO-3: Special form

This type of policy is the most common form of homeowners insurance. The two previous types of policies only cover a certain set of circumstances. HO-3 covers all types of perils, except for cases that are spelled out as exclusions. Common exclusions are earthquakes, flooding, and nuclear accidents.

HO-4: Tenants Broad form

These policies cover people who rent their homes rather than own them. Under tenants broad form insurance, only your belongings are covered. Your landlord will likely have a homeowners insurance policy that covers the structure of the home. An HO-4 policy covers you for the same perils as HO-2 policies.

HO-5: Comprehensive form

HO-5 policies represent the broadest type of coverage, but are also among the most expensive. You’re covered for all perils except for those specifically excluded, but the exclusions on HO-5 policies are fewer and more narrow than other policies. Exclusions usually include floods and earthquakes.

HO-6: Special Condominium form

If you own a condo unit, you’ll want to have an HO-6 policy. This insurance primarily covers your belongings but also protects the interior of the unit. The policies don’t cover the structure of the building, which is usually owned by the condominium association.

HO-7: Mobile Home form

This type of insurance is specifically for mobile homes and similar homes. An HO-7 policy will typically cover the structure of the building, your property and belongings, and any legal liability that arises if someone injures themselves while on your property. 

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HO-8: Modified Coverage form

HO-8 policies are generally used to cover older homes. In these cases, the cost to replace the home would be more than the home is actually worth. Like HO-1 and HO-2 policies, this type of insurance generally only covers perils spelled out in the policy.

 What does homeowners insurance cover?

A standard homeowners insurance policy offers a variety of different coverages. Depending on the circumstances or how your home and property are damaged, you may need to draw on different elements of your homeowners insurance policy. Typical policies include:

  • Dwelling coverage — This coverage, often known as Coverage A, pays to repair or replace the house itself if it’s damaged. While shopping for a homeowners insurance policy, you often decide on your coverage amount based on how much dwelling coverage you need. You can choose the amount you’d like to carry, but you generally want a coverage limit of at least 80% of what it would cost to completely rebuild your home. You should strongly consider having a high enough limit to rebuild your home from the ground up should it be completely destroyed.
  • Other structures coverage — Coverage B pays to repair or replace other buildings on your property, like a garage, gazebo, or shed. In general, your coverage limit for other structures will be 10% of the limit on your Coverage A.
  • Personal property coverage — This coverage, called Coverage C, pays to replace the things you own inside your home, like your furniture, clothes, and other belongings. Your personal property coverage limit will generally be 50% of your dwelling coverage limit. However, you can also negotiate a separate limit when shopping for a policy depending on the value of your belongings.
  • Loss of use coverage — This type of coverage, known as Coverage D, helps to cover additional living expenses you run into if you need to move out of your home while it’s repaired or replaced — like rooms in a hotel, meals out, or storage space. Your Coverage D limit will generally be set at 20% of your dwelling coverage.
  • Liability coverage — Liability coverage, or Coverage E, pays for your defense and any damages assessed to you if you’re found legally responsible for someone injured on your property. Standard homeowners insurance policies often include at least $100,000 in liability coverage, but higher amounts — between $300,00 and $500,000 — are typically recommended.
  • Medical payments coverage — This type of coverage, known as Coverage F, provides a relatively small amount of money to pay for the medical bills of someone injured while on your property. This coverage may pay out between $1,000 and $5,000.

Visit Credible to compare homeowners insurance quotes from various insurance carriers.

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Different levels of coverage

The dollar amount of coverage isn’t the only thing to consider when shopping for a homeowners insurance policy. Policies with the same coverage limits may have different levels of coverage, which dictate how your claim is handled. 

Here’s an explanation for some of the more common levels of coverage. The following generally refer to dwelling coverage and personal property coverage:

  • Actual cash value — With this method, insurers pay claims based on what it would cost to replace the damaged materials, subtracting an amount in depreciation. The older your property is, the more it’ll be reduced in value for the purposes of your claim. If your roof was damaged, the insurer will take into account the age of the materials. So, if your roof is 15 years old and the materials are designed to last for 20 years, the amount you receive will be roughly 25% of the cost of the roof. That’s because your roof is determined to have just one-fourth of its useful life remaining.
  • Replacement cost — This level of coverage is more comprehensive and will usually pay out more than a policy paying claims based on actual cash value. With the replacement cost method, the insurer pays out based on the cost to fully repair or replace the property that’s damaged with similar materials. This is regardless of its age — if that same 15-year-old roof was damaged, you’d receive the full cost of replacing it from your insurance company. However, to get this level of coverage, you’ll generally pay more in premiums on your policy. You also must generally buy the replacement materials and file a receipt to be reimbursed.
  • Extended replacement cost — With extended replacement cost coverage, you have a little more protection. If the actual replacement cost of whatever is damaged exceeds your coverage limit by a relatively small amount, you’ll still receive enough money to cover the cost. To qualify, the replacement cost generally needs to be within about 20% and 25% above your limits.
  • Guaranteed replacement cost — This takes extended replacement cost coverage even further, and represents the most complete coverage you can get. This coverage level will pay the replacement cost of what’s damaged regardless of the coverage limits of your policy (up to a specified maximum). You may not be able to buy this coverage level if you have an older home.

What homeowners insurance doesn’t cover

Any homeowners insurance policy you buy will have certain exclusions — things that aren’t covered. These can be different from policy to policy, so check the “Exclusions” section on your policy for a full outline of what isn’t covered. However, some standard exclusions are common to most policies, including damages caused by: 

  • Flood
  • Earthquake
  • Poor home maintenance
  • Sewer backups

Harm to your pets usually isn’t covered, and neither is damage to your car.

How much does homeowners insurance cost?

The amount you’ll pay for homeowners insurance will depend on the level of coverage you need, additional coverages you buy, and where you live. Nationwide, the average annual premium for homeowners insurance policies is $1,278 per year, or $106.50 per month, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners

Factors that affect the amount you’ll pay include:

  • Location — People who live in parts of the country more prone to natural disasters will generally pay higher premiums than people in areas that don’t experience them as regularly. Even within a region, your costs can vary depending on your location.
  • Deductible  When you file a claim, you generally must pay a portion of the repair cost before insurance kicks in to cover the rest. This is called your deductible. The lower your deductible, the less you have to pay out of pocket, but the higher your premium cost tends to be.
  • Amount of insurance coverage  You’ll generally buy a policy with a dwelling coverage limit high enough to cover the value of your home. The higher the value of your home, the higher the coverage limit you’ll need — and the more expensive your premium will be.
  • Age of your home — Older homes tend to be more expensive to insure than newer ones.
  • Your claim history  Insurers will try to gauge your risk by looking at how often you’ve filed insurance claims in the past, often using a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report. These reports collect data for the past seven years of auto and property insurance claims. People who have filed numerous claims may be considered a higher risk and need to pay more in premiums.

How to get a homeowners insurance quote

Shopping around can help you get the best homeowners insurance policy for you at the lowest cost. To do that, you’ll need to get quotes from multiple insurers. Here’s how to get a homeowners insurance quote:

1. Figure out the coverage you need

Estimate how much it would cost to completely rebuild your home and replace everything that’s inside. You can ask an insurance agent to help you come up with this figure. The replacement cost of your home is a good starting point to determine the coverage limits you need on your policy. 

2. Look into home insurance companies

Do some research on insurance companies. You can use a resource like Consumer Reports, which rates and reviews insurance companies. You may also be able to get a list of insurers in your area from your state’s department of insurance.

3. Get quotes from each company and compare them

Get a rate quote for the coverage limit you determined in Step 1 from each company on your list. Make sure the rate quote you receive includes the coverage limits, your deductible, and the monthly or annual premium you’d pay. As you compare one quote to another, you want coverage limits, deductibles, and other features to be similar. 

Credible makes it easy to quickly compare homeowners insurance quotes from different insurance carriers.

By William Rabb 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

A now-suspended Miami lawyer, along with the successor to his law firm, a public claims adjuster and a restoration company, have agreed to pay a total of $1 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. that had accused the defendants of fraud in hundreds of insurance claims.

The settlement is far less than what Citizens, Florida’s largest property insurer, had initially sought from attorney Scot Strems and his co-defendants. But officials said it should help deter other bad actors in a fraud-plagued Florida litigation environment.

Theobald

“This settlement certainly accomplishes what we set out to do, which was to seek justice for what we saw as an egregious fraud and to expose the threat of this type of activity,” said Joseph Theobald, senior director of Citizens’ special investigations unit.

The settlement, announced Thursday, is the latest development in what Florida insurers have called widespread, coordinated deception and exaggeration in assignment-of-benefits claims, which have reportedly cost carriers millions of dollars. Citizens filed the suit in 2020. That was about the same time that the Florida Bar moved to suspend Strems for violating numerous Bar rules, including filing thousands of lawsuits against insurers, many of them on the same claim. Strems’ suspension from practice is due to end later this year.

Also named in the suit and settlement are Contender Claims Consultants in Miami and its principal Guillermo Saavedra; and All Insurance Restoration Services and company leaders Cesar Guerrero and Derek Parsons.

Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, said the settlement and the investigations that led to it were significant.

“Had this fraud been left unchecked, it could have cost policyholders $16 million a year,” Patronis said in a statement. “As criminal investigations continue, this action sends a loud signal that if you’re ripping off customers, we’re going to find you and hold you accountable.”

Patronis did not say what he based the $16 million figure on, but a Citizens spokesman said that the Strems law firm was responsible for as much as $112 million in questionable claims and litigation filed from 2015 to 2020.

Sponsored by Smart Choice Agents Program

The Strems firm closed in 2020 and most of its attorneys formed a new firm known as The Property Advocates. A lawyer for Strems and the new firm said Thursday that the $1 million settlement was a pittance compared to the $65 million that Citizens had demanded early in the legal process and that it did not cover the insurer’s investigative and legal costs. The defendants agreed to settle in order to limit further expenses and to move on, said attorney William Schifino Jr., of Tampa.

“This is not a victory for Citizens by any stretch of the imagination,” Schifino said.

He noted that at a 2021 hearing, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, the same judge who is overseeing a $1 billion settlement in the Champlain Towers condominium collapse, questioned the sagacity of Citizens proceeding with the lawsuit.

Hanzman

“I would strongly encourage Citizens, before it requires the taxpayers to fund this litigation much longer, that it seriously explore potential resolution, given the limited nature of the funds that may be available as well as the legal obstacles to this claim,” the judge said, according to an official transcript of the hearing that Schifino provided to the Insurance Journal.

Citizens’ spokesman Michael Peltier pointed out that Citizens is not funded through taxes, but through premiums paid by policyholders. Florida law requires that the insurer levy additional assessments on policyholders only if it experiences a deficit in the wake of catastrophic losses.

Schifino said that Citizens’ years-long investigation “was proving to be very expensive to Citizens,” but had produced little evidence against his clients. he said.

Citizens said its investigative unit began digging into the Strems firm in 2016, after seeing suspicious patterns in claims and claims litigation. Investigators sifted through more than 5,000 claims and found that many of them followed a similar track, Peltier explained: Most were filed within 45 days after a loss; multiple claims were filed at the same time; claims were filed after repairs had been completed and after an AOB agreement had been signed; the same plumber, water mitigation company and adjuster were usually used; and boiler-plate plumbing invoices were used in some cases.

Citizens sent about 400 cases to the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Investigative and Forensic Services, which initiated its own investigation. In 2020, Citizens went ahead with its lawsuit, alleging that the defendants had formed an illicit enterprise, all working together to defraud insurers. The enterprise violated state and federal anti-racketeering laws, created false invoices and inflated the cost of claims, mostly on non-weather water damage, the suit charged.

The alleged fraud usually began with a Contender adjuster promising free home remodels to homeowners, the lawsuit’s 392-page amended complaint reads. Once inside the home, “Contender sheds its public adjuster duties” and begins working for the enterprise to manufacture claims and damages.

“Contender convinces homeowners to provide intake data and sign an agreement on a (computer) tablet to help adjust their claims,” the complaint reads. “In truth, however, Contender is serving as an unlawful law firm agent to solicit clients for Strems Law Firm, and as a feeder to AIRS (All Insurance Restoration Services). The tablets point to hirestremslaw.com, which was designed to create retainer agreements between the homeowners and Strems Law Firm, without any discussion with the law firm or any attorney.”

In answers to the complaint, the defendants denied wrongdoing.

The DFS’s own investigation into Strems, Contender Claims Consultants and another law firm appeared to be making progress in recent years, despite a lack of cooperation from defendants. Agency investigators subpoenaed records from Contender and others, but the defendants refused to comply, according to court records. In 2021, a circuit court judge essentially ordered Contender to comply.

Then, In September last year, DFS appeared to drop the pursuit of the records. Agency officials said they couldn’t discuss the reason why but said an investigation was still underway. Schifino said he was not familiar with the DFS investigation, and DFS officials were not available late Thursday.

Citizens’ leaders did not say how the defendants in the civil suit would share the burden of paying the $1 million settlement, or if it has been paid. The case was dismissed in late March after the settlement was formalized, which suggests that the payment has been made, Schifino said. It was unclear why the settlement was not announced sooner.

Principals with the adjusting firm and the restoration firm and their attorneys could not be reached for comment Thursday.

TOPICS LAWSUITS FLORIDA

By Michael Tobin and Nikki Ekstein 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure & Calle Financial. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer. My email is lee@myUSAssurance.com

Airbnb Beefing Up Guest Services With Satisfaction Guarantees, AirCover Protection

By Michael Tobin and Nikki Ekstein | May 12, 2022

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Wednesday morning Airbnb Inc. revealed what it’s calling its “biggest change in a decade.” Beyond modifications to its user interface and nifty new bells and whistles, it’s also addressing one of the company’s greatest pain points: poor consumer protections for guests.

Airbnb will now offer a substantial set of satisfaction guarantees for guests and is staffing up an army of customer service agents to deliver on them. “There are inherent structural advantage to hotels, like product consistency and having a front desk,” explains CEO Brian Chesky over Zoom. “And it’s been an underlying assumption for many years that we really can’t meet hotels in that sense.”

AirCover for Guests is his bid to change that. “We wanted to take some of the uncertainty of Airbnb off the table,” he says, “and make the idea of being one-of-a-kind an asset, not a liability.”

Take the misadventures of San Diego-based Kelsey Swann, who was looking forward to a quiet escape in California’s Sonoma wine country with her kids, only to find the timeshare resort she booked on Airbnb was far from that ideal. First, she was given a multiple-hour runaround between three different units which were all either unavailable, unlockable, or uncleaned. Then, once finally settled, the karaoke parties started, blaring through paper-thin walls from what seemed like every direction. They checked out the next morning.

To add insult to injury, during a days-long battle with customer support to get refunded for three unused nights, she had $3,500 fraudulently charged by the same host. Getting those charges reversed, she says, took several days and required extra support from her credit card company.

Amid the drama, she turned to a family travel Facebook group for advice; sympathetic comments poured in by the dozens. “Airbnb is the worst,” one group member told her. “We got nothing because the host disputed everything,” rallied another, who had been in a similar situation. “We loved using Airbnb for years—but it’s back to hotels for us,” another more chimed in.

Airbnb Bets on Remote Work With New Tools Including Insurance

Traditionally, Airbnb will pay out the portion of a booking that a host has earned within 24 hours of check-in. If a guest’s problem hasn’t been resolved by then, the traveler has no real recourse or protection with Airbnb, and the host has little incentive beyond a poor review to make things right.

Hosts have long enjoyed a wide array of insurance-like protections called AirCover for Hosts. There’s $1 million in liability insurance and another $1 million in damage protection. AirCover for Guests nudges toward parity.

Hosts, however, have long enjoyed a wide array of insurance-like protections called AirCover for Hosts. There’s $1 million in liability insurance and another $1 million in damage protection. The plan covers messes left by pets and other deep cleaning costs, too, with generous 14-day filing windows.

AirCover for Guests nudges toward parity. It extends the window to file complaints to 72 hours and adds guarantees that customers will be rebooked or refunded when things go wrong—be it inaccurately described listings, pests, or broken heaters.

Airbnb Adds Protection and Insurance Features With AirCover

Wednesday’s other brand-wide upgrades are also about creating a more user-friendly experience. There’s a redesigned homepage, the ability to search more open-endedly through categories (think “amazing pools,” “windmills,” or “yurts”), and a new tool called “Split Stays” that helps travelers seamlessly line up multiple bookings for trips that last longer than two weeks.

But AirCover for Guests is unique in how it underscores the two-sided marketplace of Airbnb’s business model: satisfying both the hosts who open their homes and the guests who stay in them. And as early response indicates—hosts caught wind of the policy earlier this year—pleasing them both is difficult. While guests should be thrilled with having more time and support when things go wrong, hosts say the same policy hurts them by opening the door to scammers who want a free stay.

How It Works

The new policy will cover not just problems that arise after check-in, but incidents where a host cancels a stay within 30 days of the reservation, in which cases Airbnb will automatically rebook guests into comparable (or better) homes.

That would have helped Roberta Roy, a Seattle-based mom of three who had her Rome apartment booking canceled at the last minute “because the previous guest broke the bed.” Trying to find something new on her own with just a few days to spare, she said, cost her twice as much. And calling Airbnb for help was nearly impossible thanks to an impenetrable automated phone system: “I felt like the issue could’ve been very easily addressed by Airbnb, but they were completely unreachable.”

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For guests who encounter issues at the scene, getting support will now be as simple as pushing a red “help” button in the “Trips” tab of their app. This begins an official arbitration process, via text thread, with the newly-expanded, better-trained Community Support team.

Assuming the host has already been contacted and was unable to offer an acceptable solution, customer service agents will have access to an automatically-generated list of Airbnb properties similar to the existing booking, from which they will be able to immediately rebook the guest at no cost.

Chesky says that the directive will be to upgrade a guest when in doubt: “We’d rather you be convinced this is a better home, not a worse home.”

An Airbnb property in the Great Smoky Mountains. Photographer: Olivia Carville/Bloomberg.

Airbnb will also have “a second line of defense” prepared for big events and high-demand seasons, when inventory can be fully booked out.

“Let’s say it’s Palm Springs during Coachella and all the Airbnbs are booked,” says Chesky. “Our agents will also have queued up properties or hotel rooms that might be off platform.” The idea, he explains, is having more agents being able to respond in more languages, to offer solutions “in minutes or hours rather than days.”

The Early Response

Hosts were tipped off to the policy change earlier in the year and have been discussing it in Facebook hosting groups. Running through the largely negative posts are fears that guests would take advantage of the policy and claim a refund for minor, or in worse cases, fabricated complaints.

Photo: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Some hosts Bloomberg spoke to in April said they were contemplating creating a website to attract their own bookings, so they wouldn’t have to deal with Airbnb’s policies and rules. Kim D., a Superhost who has properties in Western New York and Florida, said she worries that a guest could try to take advantage of the new policy and seek a refund for a minor problem. (Bloomberg is not using her last name because she worries Airbnb could remove her listings.)

A guest could stay at her property for three nights and come up with a minor issue for wanting to leave, which could risk Airbnb approving a refund, she said, adding there’s a “gray area” between what hosts, guests, and the company view as worthy of reimbursement.

The company views the new policies as breathing room for guests. “We didn’t want to be punitive to hosts, but a lot of guests don’t check out the entire property the first day they arrive and they discover something the second day,” Chesky said of the timeframe at an event Tuesday. “And that’s kind of a ticking time bomb—by day two if you discover anything you can’t call us? So we try to be reasonable.”

A 72-hour window would also give the host and guest more time to address the issue themselves, an Airbnb spokesperson told Bloomberg.

Chesky thinks that for most hosts, the policy should be a net benefit. “95% of hosts—maybe 99%—will be happy because they’re doing a great job. And if a host cancels or lists of properties that are not as described, it kind of hurts the brand of every host,” he says.

For consumers like Swann in Sonoma, it may be too little too late. “Would I use them again? Maybe,” she says. Rome’s Roy, however, is encouraged. “We love Airbnb. We have always used Airbnb,” she says. “I’m really glad they’re addressing these issues.”

Copyright 2022 Bloomberg.

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Lawsuits and criminal accusations have erupted after a luxury car dealer in South Florida filed for bankruptcy and as many as 90 Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other high-priced cars disappeared from the dealership.

At least nine people have filed suit in Broward and Palm Beach counties, alleging that they bought the vehicles but they were never delivered, or that the titles are missing and ownership is in dispute, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

Boca Raton police also have opened at least 26 investigations regarding alleged fraud over the cars, after Excell Auto Group declared bankruptcy in April. The business and others were owned by Scott and Kristen Zankl, the newspaper reported.

Derek Stephens, who is suing two businesses involved in the case, said he lost a 2013 Ferrari 458 Spider that he had left on consignment at one of the Zankls’ businesses, Karma of Palm Beach, according to the Sun Sentinel. Karma reportedly told Stephens that the car was taken by the company’s landlord in a dispute over unpaid loans. Karma had agreed to pay Stephens $230,000 if it sold the vehicle, Stephens’ lawsuit states.

“Some people don’t feel sorry for him, having that kind of car,” said Stephens’ attorney Darin Mellinger. “Even still, it’s a sad situation.”

Plaintiffs will likely have to wait months or years before the disputes are settled while the bankruptcy court sifts through all creditors that may be owed money by the dealership and related businesses.

The Excell Auto Group bankruptcy petition estimates that it owes $10 million to $50 million to as many as 49 creditors. Assets available for distribution to unsecured creditors range from $0 to $50,000, the filing shows. The court has asked the dealership’s owners to produce a list of all the missing cars locations.

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