No big storms, but Florida property insurance costs still rise

10:59 AM, Jan 2, 2013   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida -- Marco Tarafa was stunned to find that his homeowners' policy is increasing by nearly $1,000 a year - all because inspectors couldn't get into his attic, where there was no crawl space and about 24 inches of insulation.

Tarafa was a customer of state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for eight years, and his rates had been stable during much of that time - until now. Tarafa pays $2,200 for his policy on his 1,800-square-foot, ranch-style home in Miami Gardens. Unless something changes between now and when the policy renews in May, he's looking at a $980 increase, a hike of nearly 45 percent.

"Just because of that, they can't get into my roof!" Tarafa said.

He is among thousands of Florida homeowners forced to take coverage offered by Citizens and a target for being moved to another company in Citizens' attempts to downsize.

For Tarafa and millions of other Florida businesses and homeowners, property insurance rates keep soaring even though a hurricane hasn't made a direct hit over the state in seven years.

The average Florida homeowner is paying twice as much for insurance than just six years ago, according to industry statistics. In some areas, the increases are much higher.

Data from the New York-based Insurance Information Institute show homeowners' claims are up by an average of more than 17 percent in the past decade. They are virtually due to non-catastrophe claims involving water. In many instances, they are claims for issues ranging from leaky toilets to burst water heaters. Florida's rates have also been hurt by soaring claims on losses from sinkholes.

A more industry-friendly Office of Insurance Regulation, pressured by Gov. Rick Scott and a Republican-led Legislature, means consumers pay more.

There is little competition in the Florida property insurance market because many consumers can buy from only one company - usually Citizens. Founded by the Legislature in 2002 for homeowners who could not get private policies, it has become the state's largest property insurance company with more than 1.3 million customers after shedding some 160,000 policies in recent weeks to private companies.

"Gov. Scott, of course, wants premiums to go up and he wants Citizens to be depopulated at any cost to the policyholder," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, whose west Florida district encompasses the highest concentration of Citizens policy owners in the state. "Citizens is only there because, unfortunately, so many couldn't find insurance anywhere else."

Citizens says it would need a 16.4 percent premium increase on all products in 2013 to be actuarially sound.

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