Whether those homeowners will be able to reverse the premium hikes is “a question that we need to take a look at,” said Barry Gilway, president of Citizens, said at a press conference in August.
Citizens’ policy change came days after the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau published a series of stories documenting how hundreds of thousands of Floridians have seen premiums soar as the state-run insurer intensifies its plans to raise rates through reinspections and reduce coverage.
Consumer advocates have complained about inspectors who do not check thoroughly for evidence that support the homeowner, often ruling quickly that homes do not qualify for discounts.
Gilway acknowledged that several inspectors have failed to adequately check homeowners’ attics to see if they were not completely clear of obstruction. Property owners have lost thousands of dollars in discounts because their attics were blocked by boxes or insulation.
“The inspector is not required to wait while you move property that is restricting attic access,” a Citizens letter to policyholders reads.
Under the new changes, homeowners will have one year to clear their attic and receive a follow-up inspection, before any premium increases.
Consumer advocates said the changes sounded positive, but more details were needed, cautioning policyholders “to take a trust-but-verify approach.”
Created in 2002 as a safe haven, Citizens — the so-called “insurer of last resort” — has ballooned to become the state’s largest insurer, with about 1.4 million policies. Most of its risk is concentrated in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, hazard-prone regions where many homeowners cannot find coverage in the private market. Its actions, including rate increases, affect the entire insurance market, impacting housing costs for nearly every Floridian, including those with private insurers.
The initial reinspection program began in 2010, with Citizens sending thousands of inspectors to review the homes of policyholders. About half of all homeowners receive wind-mitigation discounts for hurricane-resistant features on their homes. The reinspection program targeted those features, as inspectors have found that thousands of homeowners did not deserve the discounts they were receiving. The result has been more than $137 million worth of premium increases for homeowners.
The program was ramped up, with more than 200,000 inspections completed in 2012. Nearly 90,000 more were yet to be completed last year. In about three in four cases, homeowners have lost their discounts, leading to average premium hikes of more than 30 percent.
Gov. Rick Scott has been pushing for the state-run insurer to reduce its size and risk, leading to rate hikes and coverage reductions for hundreds of thousands.