He suspects many customers never challenged the inspections because the reports are hard to understand and the bills are coming from a state-run insurer.
“Most people think when you’re dealing with the government, you’re dealing with some integrity,” Minnoch said. “They’re going to take it at face value.”
After months of obtaining documentation to show various features at his home did qualify, he whittled the bill down substantially before deciding last month to cancel.
“I’m sure Citizens can come up with reasons for wanting more money, but where is the money being spent?” he wrote to the company. “Apparently my rate is going up to pay for waste, misuse, and abuse (deluxe hotel rooms, first-class air travel to Europe).”
A state inspector general’s report criticized weak cost controls at Citizens and cited such expenses as $600 per night hotel rooms in Bermuda. Company officials defended the costs at the time as necessary to arrange reinsurance contracts, but have supported revisions in company travel policies designed to hold down expenses.
As for 3 percent of its customers challenging inspections,” the flip side of that is more than 97 percent of policyholders who had reinspections did not choose to have a re-evaluation,” spokesman Peltier said. “We sent letters to all affected policyholders and there was a lot of media attention regarding the ability to have us come out and take another look.”
The state’s insurance consumer advocate, Robin Westcott, said last year she thought the “real mission” of the reinspections was to generate premiums and the company frequently failed to make clear why consumers were losing credits and what they could do about it. Something as simple as a worn-off sticker on a shutter panel or boxes blocking attic access in a closet could cost homeowners a huge amount, though they might never know it.
Complicating matters further, state officials have changed the rules for the discounts more than once amid heavy lobbying by the insurance industry. Gov. Rick Scott last year called for Citizens to find ways to raise premiums, reduce coverage and drive customers to private competitors where possible to reduce its risk exposure.
Regular rate increases for Citizens are capped at 10 percent a year under state law, but the multi-year inspection campaign has raised customer bills by an average of $521.10, or 21 percent.
Citizens spent more than $60 million to pay inspectors and related expenses. Policyholders more than covered those costs as their annual premiums increased by $212.1 million as of May 31. Net gain for the company: $151.8 million.
Inspections increased premiums for 72 percent of customers visited, with 10 percent seeing a decrease and the rest unchanged.
Company officials have denied they pressured inspectors to remove discounts, but The Post reported last year Citizens and its contractors rejected more than 90,000 reports from inspectors in the field. The revised reports were overwhelmingly likely to raise consumer bills, by an average of $660.
Citizens is Florida’s largest property insurer with more than 1.2 million customers.
One inspector in Palm Beach County who spoke on condition of anonymity told the newspaper nearly half his 2012 reports were rejected and his pay was reduced because of it. In each case the company wanted changes that were bad news for the customer. He said he quit because of what he considered “unethical practices.”
The records show consumers have challenged more than 11,000 inspections, about 3 percent of the total. Close to 7,000 got credits restored for a variety of reasons. Some cleared access to an attic. Others provided new documentation or made home improvements. In at least 1,510 cases, Citizens admitted errors by contractors or itself.