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October 18, 2021

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

Fourteen alleged insurance fraudsters are awaiting court action after they were arrested last week in southwest Florida.

In Manatee County, south of Tampa, 13 men were caught in a sting operation and charged with contracting without a license and failing to have workers’ compensation insurance on their workers, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

The sheriff’s office did not say how the sting went down. But in similar operations in recent years, authorities advertised for bids on a local residential construction project. When the contractors arrived to look at the property, authorities checked state databases and found the men to be operating outside state law and regulations. The operation was conducted in conjunction with investigators from the Florida Department of Financial Services, the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

“The purpose of the operation was to address unlicensed contractors who are working without the required contractor license and engaging in construction-class work without the required workers’ compensation insurance exemptions,” the sheriff’s office said.

Those arrested were:

Jake Gratkowski, Oved Otachy, Robert Pinas, Carlos Pena, Harold Leventry, Loren Leonard, Robert Edwards, John Small, Jonathan Pipes, Andrei Razmeritsa, Earl Brown, David Lamothe and Junio Goncalves-Fonseca.

In Naples, Florida, a former insurance agent, jailed a decade ago for pocketing premiums, was arrested last week on charges of leaving the scene of an accident.

Elliott (courtesy: Collier County Sheriff)

Kenneth Elliott won local fame in 2011, when he was convicted of defrauding at least 20 policyholders. He was sent to prison and ordered to pay more than $68,800 in restitution, including $742 to his own mother, according to a report in the Naples Daily News.

Elliott was released from prison in 2018. In March of this year, he was charged with leaving the scene of an automobile accident, but he failed to appear in court and remained at large until last week.

The man has been ordered held without bond. He has applied for indigent status, claiming to have no income or assets. Court records show he has paid only about $11,000 of the restitution he was ordered to pay in 2011.

Citizens Insurance chief details troubled industry

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

Pointing to a “sea of red ink,” the head of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. described a private insurance industry Wednesday that is losing gobs of money while homeowners face soaring rates and trouble finding coverage.

“The consistency of loss across the entire marketplace is absolutely staggering,” Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway told the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee. “It’s not a decision that one or two companies are making. The reality is that what is occurring in the marketplace is impacting every single company in the market.”

Gilway went before the panel less than six months after lawmakers passed a measure (SB 76) to try to bolster the property-insurance system. But as evidence of continuing problems, the number of policies written by Citizens has soared to more than 700,000 and is expected to climb above 1 million next year, as homeowners turn to it for coverage.

While Gilway’s presentation focused heavily on financial problems in the insurance industry, Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, asked about the impact on homeowners, citing a disabled veteran who got hit with a large rate increase.

“Where is the breaking point for the disabled military veteran, who is on a fixed income, that can’t insure their home when they are at a breaking point themselves?” Willhite asked.

With lawmakers preparing to start the 2022 legislative session in January, the meeting Wednesday did not include detailed discussions of proposals to address the problems. As an example of one idea, Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Miramar, floated the possibility of more broadly opening the market to what are known as surplus-lines carriers, which don’t face the same regulatory oversight as more-traditional insurers.

But House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, pointed to numerous changes in the property-insurance system over the past two decades and questioned whether the state needs a new approach.

“Should we be moving in a completely different direction?” Jenne asked. “What we have been trying to do, a lot of it has been built on one another. Yet we continuously find the same results and find ourselves in these sticky situations. Should we be looking at something new?”

Citizens was originally created as an insurer of last resort, but it has seen huge growth since mid-2020 as private insurers have raised rates and reduced policies to try to stem financial losses.

Citizens added nearly 22,000 policies last month and had 708,919 policies as of Sept. 30, according to data posted on its website. It had gained almost 200,000 policies since Sept. 30, 2020, when it totaled 511,055 policies, and Gilway said recently that an initial forecast for 2022 includes 1 million to 1.3 million policies.

Many lawmakers and state leaders have long sought to move homeowners from Citizens into the private market, largely because of concerns about financial risks for taxpayers if Florida gets hit with a major hurricane.

But along with private insurers reducing the amount of coverage they will write because of financial problems, Gilway said Citizens often has cheaper rates than private companies. In addition, many homeowners in areas such as Southeast Florida rely on Citizens because they have few other options for coverage.

The legislation passed in April took a series of steps, including trying to help curb lawsuits against insurers and gradually raising a cap on rate increases for Citizens customers.

But one key part of the bill designed to prevent contractors from soliciting homeowners to file roof-damage claims has been blocked by a federal judge because of First Amendment concerns. Insurers contend they have faced soaring costs because of unnecessary, if not fraudulent, roof-damage claims.

Gilway’s comments Wednesday, in some ways, echoed state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, who last month told a Senate committee that the condition of the property-insurance market was “dire.”

Gilway, who said he has been in the insurance business for 51 years, used graphics to show lawmakers that dozens of private insurers have sustained net-income losses in recent years. Among the factors he cited were litigation costs and the costs of reinsurance, which is essentially insurance that insurers buy as a backup.

Also, Gilway said the Office of Insurance Regulation in 2020 received 105 rate filings from insurers that sought increases of 10 percent or more. Customers of some companies have seen rate increases of more than 25 percent in 2020 and 2021, according to information that Gilway presented.

Gilway said the situation is not “sustainable.”

“It is not acceptable to have Floridians faced with increasing rates that are staggering,” he said.

by Dana George 

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

The safe move is to know what’s not covered by homeowners insurance and to buy additional coverage where needed.

Homeowners insurance can be a lifesaver when a home is hit by peril. The fact that an insurer will pay to rebuild a home if it burns to the ground or will replace a storm-damaged roof allows policyholders to rest easy, knowing they won’t go broke trying to make repairs on their own. That’s the primary reason mortgage lenders require people to carry homeowners coverage.

But how sure are you that your losses will be covered? Let’s say a homeowner runs a business from their basement, and that’s where they keep their inventory. How much coverage can they expect if the basement floods and the inventory is destroyed?

That’s one simple illustration of why it’s so important to know what’s covered — and not covered — under a homeowners insurance policy. A standard policy is called an HO-3, and while it does cover multiple issues, some exclusions could be vital in certain situations.

Read through this list of coverages not typically provided through an HO-3 policy. If you see any coverage you should have, today would be a good time to call your insurance agent to find out about adding it to your standard policy.https://95d94a8b693b6b5d142613caba8e5ae1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

1. Flood damage

Unless a homeowner has a flood damage rider attached to their homeowners policy, it’s almost certain they aren’t covered against floods. To get flood protection, apply through the National Flood Insurance Program, run by FEMA. Two pieces of good news here: The first is that flood insurance also covers mudflows, which is helpful for those who live at the bottom of a hill or mountain. Plus, flood insurance is relatively inexpensive for those who don’t live in a flood-prone area.

2. Home-based business losses

A standard HO-3 policy normally provides minimal coverage for business property. Let’s say a policy will pay up to $2,500 on business-related losses. Typically, the coverage applies to specific assets, like computers. If there is anything else involved in the policyholder’s business, like equipment used to manufacture products or inventory, it’s unlikely that the small, allowable payment will cover losses.

Add to that, anyone who owns a business is open to potential lawsuits. A separate business insurance policy would cover the loss due to peril and provide liability coverage.

3. Sewer backup

Many homeowners have been disappointed to learn that their standard homeowners coverage does not protect them against loss caused by sewer backups into drains. Given that the damage caused by a simple thunderstorm can cost thousands to repair, it makes sense to check with your agent to learn how much it would cost to purchase a separate rider for protection.

4. Swimming pool

If a homeowner installs a swimming pool in their backyard, a standard homeowners policy will not protect against lawsuits. To be covered, a homeowner needs to specifically add extra coverage. Given how much a single lawsuit could cost, this additional coverage is worth its weight in gold.

5. Earthquakes

Earthquakes, sinkholes, and other earth movements (for example, those caused by fracking) are rarely included in a standard homeowners insurance policy. Coverage can be purchased in most states as an endorsement (also called an “addendum”).

There are fault lines across the U.S., and no area is immune to earthquakes. In fact, several of the largest earthquakes in the lower 48 states have been in southern Missouri. One argument you may hear against earthquake insurance is that it’s worth skipping because the deductibles are so high. That is simply not true.

Imagine there’s an earthquake in Kentucky, and every home in a neighborhood sustains damage. Fortunately, one homeowner has earthquake coverage. Their deductible is high, but the foundation and structure of the home needs to be entirely rebuilt. That policyholder can borrow against the equity in their home to pay the deductible, and they’re one of the only homeowners in the area able to rebuild. Paying a high deductible often beats being solely responsible for the cost to rebuild.https://95d94a8b693b6b5d142613caba8e5ae1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

6. Your pup is the wrong breed

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog-related injuries and bites accounted for more than $675 million in homeowners claims in 2018. Let’s say you adopt an adorable German shepherd or pit bull pup. It’s a good idea to call your insurance agent to find out whether the pup’s breed will lead to the cancellation of insurance coverage.

If a dog happens to be part of a “high-risk” breed, some companies will cancel a homeowners policy, others will charge a higher premium, and some will do nothing — as long as the pet has no history of aggression. The important thing is for the policyholder to let their insurance company know and to make sure they’re fully covered.

7. Termites

If you’ve ever discovered termites in your house, you know how expensive it can be to get rid of them — and to repair the damage they leave behind. Termite damage is rarely covered by homeowners insurance. The best bet is to take preventive measures, like keeping the roof in good repair and cutting back trees and bushes near the house.

One of the best things about homeowners insurance is the ability to customize coverage to meet a homeowner’s needs. If a standard homeowners policy doesn’t provide all the coverage you require, see if you can add riders for additional security. The idea is to decide what you need help protecting and to purchase the level of coverage that will do just that.

Choosing the right homeowners insurance to protect you

No matter where you live, insuring your home is critical to protecting your finances in the event of an unexpected incident. Whether it’s a natural disaster, an accident, a break-in or something that causes damage to your property, you want to know you have the right homeowners insurance coverage for your situation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana George

Dana George

Dana has been writing about personal finance for more than 20 years, specializing in loans, debt management, investments, and business.

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

After a DUI in Florida, we have to rewrite your policy to a new carrier as yours will drop you once they gte word of it.

You will have to do SR22’s pay higher rates for 5 years & your coverage options are also lower w/ the higher premiums

It is truly not worth that scenario, but so many still feel like they have to try & make it home. I only Hope you come home alive.

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:02 a.m. ETBy 

Ben Moore

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

This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, which destroyed hundreds of thousands of cars, drivers likely turned to their auto insurers for help.

But minimally insured drivers might be surprised to find their state’s required coverage doesn’t pay for damage from floods and other natural disasters. Only 78% of insured drivers are sufficiently covered in case of a natural disaster, according to the Insurance Information Institute’s analysis of 2018 data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the most recent data available.

Here’s how auto insurance works after a natural disaster and what you should do in case the worst happens.

Comprehensive coverage pays for damage from natural disasters

Comprehensive coverage pays for damage from natural disasters, including floods, hail, tornadoes and wildfires, plus other causes that don’t involve a collision with another vehicle.

It covers up to the current market value of your car, minus your comprehensive deductible. If your car is considered a total loss — meaning the cost to repair it is close to or higher than its value — your insurer will issue a payment for your car’s current retail value minus the deductible.NOW PLAYING: Watch: Hawaii’s Kīlauea Volcano Begins Erupting

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This coverage is typically optional unless you drive a leased car or have an auto loan. If your current policy doesn’t include comprehensive coverage and you’d be unable to cover the cost to repair or replace your car after a natural disaster, you may want to add it. It’s probably not necessary if you drive an older car, as the coverage won’t pay out much in a claim, if anything at all.

While you can add comprehensive coverage at any time, it won’t pay out retroactively. You’ll need it on your policy before your car is damaged for it to take effect.

Cars burned from the Dixie fire in Northern California in September. GETTY IMAGES
File comprehensive claims as quickly as possible

Insurance companies and repair shops may get bogged down in claims after a natural disaster, so file a comprehensive claim as quickly as you can. “The sooner your claim comes in, the sooner you are in line for assistance,” says Jessica Castillo, senior claims manager at Metromile.

To speed up the claims process, Castillo suggests providing photos of your car before the damage, if you have them. Many companies let customers file claims online or through a mobile app, which can help customers avoid busy phone lines.

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If you’re unable to cover the cost of your deductible, Castillo recommends you still have your car looked at by a mechanic, even if you wait to file a claim. You’ll learn what the repair estimate is, plus you’ll find out if your car can be safely driven while you save up for the deductible.

Take extra steps if you don’t file a claim immediately. Castillo advises noting the date of the event and how it happened, plus taking photos of the damage. You should also look for ways to prevent more damage, such as drying out your car after a flood to avoid mold.

Consider other coverage options

Other coverage options can offer financial peace of mind, according to Dave Powell, vice president of auto claims for Travelers Insurance.

Rental reimbursement coverage will cover the cost of a rental car or public transit if your car is being repaired for a covered claim. “How are you going to arrange for alternative transportation and how are you going to pay for it” while your car is in the shop, Powell asks. If you’re unsure, this may be a worthwhile addition to your policy.

Don’t miss: Tesla’s moving to Texas for cheap housing — and could come up short

If your new car is totaled, new car replacement coverage will pay for a new car of the same make and model, minus your deductible. Depending on the insurer, the coverage will pay out for totaled cars 1 to 5 years old.

Take precautions and mitigate further damage

The safety of you and your loved ones should be the top priority in a crisis. But if you’re given enough notice of a coming storm, these tips can help lower the risk of car damage:

  • In the event of a flood warning, move your car to higher ground, like the top of a hill or a high level in a parking garage.
  • Park your car in a garage or other shelter to avoid damage from hail or wind.
  • Use sandbags or flood barriers in your garage to prevent water from getting inside.
  • Avoid parking under trees or power lines.
  • If you own multiple cars and need to evacuate, try to get all vehicles out of the disaster area.
  • Don’t drive through standing water.

After the storm has passed, check the damage to your car. If it’s flooded, don’t start it. Instead, disconnect the battery, roll down the windows if possible and get the car towed to dry ground.

ReadCalifornia’s wildfires haven’t stopped homes from seeing red-hot price growth

Also, check for cracks in the windshield or windows, and cover any you find with a tarp to avoid further damage to your car’s interior.

More From NerdWallet

Ben Moore writes for NerdWallet. Email: bmoore@nerdwallet.com

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

Despite the collapse of a condominium building in June and the growing threat of rising sea levels, condo sales in South Florida have only accelerated, new data suggest.

“The flow of capital to South Florida shows absolutely no sign of abatement,” Ana Bozovic, founder of Analytics.Miami told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper.

The firm, which produces regular reports on the Florida real estate market, said that for the third quarter of this year, sales for condo units in Miami-Dade County were the highest in years. Some 6,250 units sold in the quarter, and the most expensive units, those priced at more than $1 million, saw a 228% increase over 2019 levels, the newspaper reported.

After the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside collapsed in June, killing 98 people, real estate observers feared that the market would dry up. But the Analytics report shows the opposite has happened.

In Palm Beach County, almost 5,000 condos sold in the third quarter, marking a 22% increase over 2019. In nearby Broward County, more than 5,600 condo units sold in the third quarter, a 19% increase from 2019.

Brokers said that some sales in the area immediately surrounding the Champlain Tower site have slowed, and nearby sales slowed immediately after the collapse, then picked up after that. More potential buyers have been inspecting properties more closely, including checking basements and parking areas, for structural problems, the report said.

The hot market could change, however, if insurance carriers begin to shy away from properties that don’t meet repair and maintenance standards, or don’t have records of proper care, according to a principal with Condo Vultures, a property database website.

October 8, 2021

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 Florida judge overseeing parts of the aftermath of the deadly collapse of a condominium building in Surfside said this week that a mediator will be appointed to sort through claims.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing that he is hoping to avoid a bitter and lengthy battle over insurance and other compensation claimed by victims’ families and condo owners. The goal is to develop a plan to distribute money from the planned sale of the Champlain Towers South site, and from insurance payouts and any lawsuit proceeds, according to the Associated Press and local news reports.

The 12-story beachfront condominium collapsed in the early morning of June 24, killing 98 people. The cause has not been identified, but the building needed millions of dollars in critical repairs, residents and engineers have said.

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

Hurricane Ida was a wake-up call for many homeowners in the New York region, and there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re rethinking your homeowner’s insurance.

  • 15
Credit…Trisha Krauss
Ronda Kaysen

By Ronda KaysenOct. 8, 2021

In the weeks since Hurricane Ida flooded her Maplewood, N.J., basement with eight inches of water, Ingrid Nagy has been trying to figure out how to financially protect herself from the next big storm.

Because her homeowner’s insurance did not cover flood damage, she was unable to pay for professionals to help her dry out the space, demolish the knotty pine walls and dispose of her soggy possessions. Instead, she and her husband did it on their own.

“If I could have drawn on the insurance company, I would have,” said Ms. Nagy, adding that the hurricane, which rolled through the region on Sept. 1, caused the worst flooding she’s experienced in the 30 years she has lived in the three-bedroom house. “My preference would have been to bring in a remediation company.”

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Now, for the first time, she’s shopping for flood insurance.

Ms. Nagy, who previously worked in marketing, is among the millions of Americans who do not live in areas considered high risk for flooding, and so are not required to buy flood insurance if they have a federally backed home mortgage. Because insurance isn’t required for most homes, only about 20 percent of U.S. homes have flood insurance (most through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program), yet 90 percent of natural disasters involve flooding, according to the Insurance Information Institute.Can You Break the Lease if Your Apartment Might Flood?Sept. 25, 2021Holding Back the FloodwatersSept. 24, 2021

“Flooding can happen just about anytime in any place,” said Mark Friedlander, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Essex County, which includes Maplewood, experienced severe flooding during Ida, but only 2.5 percent of homes there have federally backed flood insurance, according to Mr. Friedlander. Homeowners without adequate coverage paid for their losses out of pocket, or filed claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the area was declared a federal disaster zone.

In general, floods are costly disasters — one inch of water can cause as much as $25,000 in damage, according to FEMA. As sea levels rise and storms get bigger, wetter and more frequent, more homes will flood and they will flood more often, leaving homeowners increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic property losses.

“The chances for flood damage are already bad and it’s going to get worse,” said Andrew Hurst, an insurance research analyst at ValuePenguin, a personal finance website.

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“The most marginalized people are the ones who are going to be most affected,” he added, because they are more likely to live in areas more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, frequently receive a smaller share of federal disaster aid, and are less likely to be able to afford the high cost of insurance.

About 75 percent of all flood insurance policies are administered by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. You can buy one of these policies through a local insurance broker or get referred to one by calling the national program at (888) 379-9531.

Any renter, homeowner or business owner in one of the 23,000 participating communities is eligible for a policy, with rates set by FEMA. But those rates are changing. Currently, the average annual premium is $734, according to ValuePenguin. But a new rating system, called Risk Rating 2.0, which FEMA rolled out this month, takes into account a home’s location, its size and its overall flood risk. While 23 percent of policy holders will see their rates drop under the changes, 66 percent could see their rates rise by as much as $120 a year, and 4 percent could see their rates rise by $240 a year. Existing policyholders will see rates rise beginning in April. Lawmakers from coastal states, including New York and New Jersey, have urged Congress to block the new rates.

The national program’s coverage is reliable, but it’s limited. Residential policies max out at $250,000 for the building and $100,000 for contents. And not all contents are covered. If your basement floods, your policy could replace your walls, boiler and hot-water heater, but not the cost of replacing any personal possessions in the basement, like sofas, televisions and clothes.

If you have a finished basement or live in an expensive area like New York, a national flood policy would probably not make you whole in a major disaster. “If you have a $500,000 home, you may have a huge gap” in coverage, Mr. Friedlander said.

There are other limits, too. These policies do not cover living expenses, so if you have to move out temporarily, you’ll have to cover those costs yourself. And new policies generally take 30 days to take effect, so homeowners looking for coverage for the rest of the 2021 hurricane season, which lasts through November, may be left without coverage during a high-risk period this year.

Private flood insurance typically offers more flexible coverage, but it isn’t available in all markets. Prices are not set by the government, so they fluctuate based on the provider’s risk assessment. And unlike the National Flood Insurance Program, a private carrier could drop you in the middle of a term or deny your renewal, potentially leaving you in the lurch in a disaster, according to ValuePenguin.

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

The South Florida owners of a swimming pool company have been charged with swindling homeowners out of almost $2 million, as well as failing to obtain workers’ compensation insurance and insurance application fraud.

Florida law enforcement officers this week arrested Chrystal Washburn and Brian Washburn, owners of Amore Pools. Investigators said the couple took large deposits from more than 100 homeowners on in-ground pools, then never completed or, in some cases, never started the work, according to local news reports.

The Washburns allegedly used a third-party check-cashing site to convert the homeowners’ checks to cash in an attempt to conceal the transactions. The couple also have been accused of forging signatures on permits and other documents, filing false information on insurance applications and under-reporting payroll to avoid workers’ comp premiums.

“This was a sham company that had one goal in mind. That was scamming victims,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said at a news conference on Wednesday.

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

The Florida property insurance community was abuzz this week after word got out that a closely watched complaint about some public adjusters’ apparent conflicts of interest had been withdrawn.

The head of investigations for Universal Property & Casualty Insurance, one of the largest homeowners’ carriers in Florida, in July filed the petition for a declaratory statement with the Florida Department of Financial Services. The petition gave examples of public adjusters who, it said, were directing repair and restoration work to companies owned by family members.

The petition asked DFS to clarify what may constitute a conflict of interest under Florida statutes.

“I am seeking clarification from the department in determining the scope of the definition of ‘directly or indirectly’ as stated in Florida Statute 626.8795 … prohibition of conflict of interest,” wrote David Dominguez, special investigations unit manager for Universal. “In addition, what recourse does the insurance carrier have regarding the demand for payment being made by a vendor who submitted their invoice for service under an AOB (assignment of benefits) or DTP (direction to pay).”

Finally, insurance industry advocates said at the time, regulators will have little choice but to crack down on the public adjuster problem, which some say has led to exorbitant property claims, extensive litigation, and rising premiums for homeowners.

“These shenanigans have been going on for a while, and people want to know what DFS is doing to stop it,” said Scott Johnson, a Tallahassee lobbyist and former vice president at the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. “When all of an adjuster’s claims to go a company that’s owned by her son, that’s not the spirit of the law.”

But many were surprised when the DFS posted a small notice on the Florida Administrative Register recently, saying that Universal’s petition had been withdrawn. No explanation was given. The withdrawal was made on Sept. 16, but few in the industry appeared to realize it until this week.

Dominguez could not be reached for comment about what was behind the cancellation. But Travis Miller, attorney for Universal, told the Insurance Journal that the carrier felt that the concerns were better addressed in another forum. The DFS petition route historically has been used to address questions that an insurer has about its own actions in the future, not about other companies’ current practices, Miller said.

“It came down to what is the right avenue for this,” Miller said Wednesday.

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis

He said Universal hopes that DFS, headed by Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, will take the information and continue to investigate what appears to be a pattern of some adjusters’ having conflicts. Meanwhile, the carrier will scrutinize its claims on a case-by-case basis and may pursue fraud allegations through the DFS investigations and fraud unit.

Miller said no one from the state agency had asked that the petition be withdrawn. Universal’s own audit of claims, which led to the petition, has been “very instructive,” he noted, and may yet lead to further action. Other carriers have seen what to do and may follow suit, he suggested. A spokesman for DFS said only that the petition had been withdrawn at Miller’s request.

Still, industry observers are scratching their heads over the withdrawal. Johnson, who blogs regularly about Florida insurance issues, said he had not heard back from Universal about the reason for the petition cancellation. But he wondered if the matter had been withdrawn because the carrier wasn’t seeing the action or answers it had hoped for.

Public adjusting has been a huge issue in Florida for years. While insurance agents have said that some public adjusters provide homeowners with needed relief when a carrier undervalues repairs or makes a mistake, insurers also have said that a few adjusters have produced sky-high replacement claims, assigning work to contractors with whom they have a financial relationship.

“We see conflicts of interest, yes,” said Mary Jordan, owner of Gulf Coast Insurance, an agency in Pensacola, Florida.

After hurricanes strike a coastal area, billboards often appear across the landscape, advertising public adjusters who will get “full payment” on claims or “three times” what the insurance company adjuster will offer. Insurance agents have told stories about adjusters who present an attractive package to damaged homeowners, saying they’ll “take care of everything.” But the stressed homeowner may not realize that the adjuster’s claim to the insurer is twice as high as what was quoted or that the adjuster’s wife or brother is getting the work, agents have said.

“Insurance companies can’t keep up,” with the inflated claims and litigation that have resulted from Florida’s “broken” regulatory environment, said Lauren Menuey, managing director for Goosehead Insurance, a regional insurance agency.

Citizens’ Property Insurance, Florida’s rapidly growing insurer of last resort, also expressed worries about the reported practices.

“The concern is that there is collusion, and we certainly can’t support that,” said Michael Peltier, chief of communications for Citizens.

The Florida Legislature earlier this year approved Senate Bill 1598, which was signed into law. It prohibits contractors and others from filing claims for policyholders unless they are licensed as adjusters. It also strengthened the Department of Financial Services authority to pursue administration action and impose fines.

“The Legislature made some changes but not enough on this specific issue,” Johnson said.

Other states have gone further. New York now requires public adjusters to disclose their financial interests and bans them from requiring an insured to use a specific contractor.

The Florida law that Universal referred to in its petition has been on the books for some time. Statute 626.8795 reads: “A public adjuster may not participate, directly or indirectly, in the reconstruction, repair, or restoration of damaged property that is the subject of a claim adjusted by the licensee; may not engage in any other activities that may be reasonably construed as a conflict of interest, including soliciting or accepting any remuneration from, of any kind or nature, directly or indirectly; and may not have a financial interest in any salvage, repair, or any other business entity that obtains business in connection with any claim that the public adjuster has a contract or an agreement to adjust.”

Universals’ Dominguez said he audited two years of claims, 2019 through 2021, and found multiple adjusters in Florida who have cozy relationships with water mitigation and remediation providers. He named three of them. On one, Capital Claims Public Adjusters, in Miami, the principal is the mother of the owner of Emergency Remediation Services, Dominguez said in his petition. In 100% of claims in which Emergency Remediation was the contractor, Capital Claims was the adjuster, the petition contends.

On another, Superior Insurance Claim Consultants of Miami, the principal is married to the principal at Restoration Heroes. In 96% of claims in which Restoration was the contractor, Claim Consultants was the adjuster, Dominguez said.

His petition argues that similar relationships have affected hundreds, perhaps thousands of Florida homeowners.

The owners of those firms did not return phone calls from the Insurance Journal by late Wednesday. The Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters’ president released a statement. “We’re following the issue very closely, but it would be inappropriate to comment until the matter is resolved,” Karen Schifmiller said. “What I can tell you is that FAPIA’s position has always been that conflicts of interest should not exist because they diminish consumer confidence in the insurance claim process. FAPIA has in fact successfully lobbied for anti-conflict of interest language that is now state law (defined in FS 626.8795).”

The group’s website notes that member public adjusters subscribe to a code of ethics and that much of the inflated costs in Florida are the result of unlicensed adjusters and unscrupulous contractors.

“FAPIA believes there is a direct relationship between the increased frequency in unlicensed activity and the perpetual need for increases in insurance premiums,” the association’s site reads. “Implementing greater statutory prohibitions pertaining to unlicensed activity, and instituting a clearer process for enforcement, will provide policyholders greater availability to alternative insurance options at affordable rates.”

A spokesman for DFS said the department is “focused on fighting insurance fraud that drives up rates,” and encourages stakeholders to report fraud at MyFloridaCFO.com/Division/DIFS.

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