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Citizens Insurance announces plans to revamp reinspections programs

TALLAHASSEE -- Citizens Property Insurance Corp. announced Friday it is making significant changes to its home reinspection program following an outcry from consumers and recent media coverage over a staggering $137 million in premium increases tied to the initial program.

Under its new plans, homeowners who lose insurance discounts due to a reinspection can receive a second inspection free of charge and will have new tools to dispute first inspectors' findings.

"In response to policyholder and agent feedback, Citizens is implementing changes to its inspection program to address concerns about the implementation and quality of the program as well as provide better education on the importance of protecting homes against storm damage," said Citizens board chairman Carlos Lacasa.

Citizens is still deciding whether to apply the changes retroactively. That decision could impact more than 175,000 property owners, who have lost an average of $800 in credits after their inspections.

The announcement comes less than a week 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.

Created a decade ago to be a safe haven — the so-called “insurer of last resort”— Citizens 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 the cost of housing 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 program has ramped up recently, with more than 200,000 inspections completed in the last year.

In about three in four cases, homeowners have lost their discounts, leading to average premium hikes of more than 30 percent.

Consumer advocates have accused Citizens of using the inspections program to raise rates on homeowners. Citizens denied the charge.

The company also said Friday that it would be doing a full operational review to find areas where it could improve, focusing on customer service, administrative expenses and better communication.

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