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Florida homeowners might pay more with property insurance legislation

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a property insurance overhaul that is likely to increase premiums for many Floridians in the upcoming months, along with tax rebates for residents affected by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole this fall.

The Republican-controlled Legislature had approved the package during a three-day special session earlier in the week, which was called in order to stabilize Florida’s insurance industry.

Due to more than a dozen companies discontinuing their policies over the past two years, seven of them even going out of business altogether, Floridians are paying triple what other states pay on average for insurance.

To sign the legislation into effect, DeSantis visited Fort Myers Beach–which had been battered by Hurricane Ian–and stressed that it was not just about supporting insurers at homeowners’ expense: “It’s not a question about ‘helping’ the insurance companies,” he said. “What it’s about is creating a market where people are going to want to do business in Florida.” He added that if they were able to get more people offering policies then consumers would have choices and be able to make better decisions for themselves.

Alongside this measure was also legislation providing property tax refunds for homes across 16 counties who suffered severe damage from both Hurricane Ian and Nicole; any homeowner whose house or apartment became uninhabitable due to these storms could qualify for this break.

While both measures will help those affected by hurricanes this year, it appears that insurance reform was still at the heart of this special session.

No guarantee costs come down

The legislation signed Friday requires 1.1 million policyholders of the cheaper state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to switch to private insurance if their renewal offer is less than 20% higher than what they are currently paying.

Furthermore, starting in April, homeowners must have flood coverage and by July those renewing policies in flood-prone areas will need it too; within five years, all Citizens’ customers will be required to have this additional coverage regardless of where they live.

This move has been made as the number of Citizen’s policies has doubled over the last two years, with rates being 30% cheaper statewide (40% in Miami-Dade County) compared to private insurance companies.

The hope is that pushing more people into the private market will make Florida more attractive for insurers while reducing potential costs on taxpayers should major storm claims deplete reserves at Citizens’.

Do Florida homeowners lose again?

House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa noted that Floridians are yet again facing losses, and expressed her worry for those on fixed incomes. “How many people are going to lose their homes before this ‘trickle down’ plan offers any relief?” she asked.

She went on to express concern for Florida’s retirees, noting that the bill did not seem written with them in mind. Driskill highlighted amendments proposed by Democrats which were intended to freeze rates, reduce premiums or offer consumer subsidies but all failed to pass.

These changes would have made insurance more “affordable, available and accountable” as per Democrat demands.

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Lawmakers also allocated another $1 billion from taxpayer money into a reinsurance pool insurers could draw from; back in May during a special session focused on improving the insurance market an initial $2 billion was set aside from the state treasury for reinsurance help.

The legislation signed Friday further reduces the risks of homeowner lawsuits against insurers by banning what is known as one-way attorney fees – where insurers pay legal costs of policyholders who successfully sue in claims disputes – though critics argue it creates an imbalance between homeowners and their insurance companies.

Governor Ron DeSantis defends limiting lawsuits

Governor Ron DeSantis defended the provision in the measure that would limit litigation costs. He stated that it “will make a huge difference” to prevent scams and frivolous lawsuits which have been prevalent in Florida for years.

The bill also contains a clause prohibiting Assignment of Benefits (AOB), which allows contractors to deal directly with insurers on behalf of policyholders who need damage repairs. Although some argue that AOB helps homeowners, others point out how it has driven up insurance costs for companies.

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CFO Jimmy Patronis agreed with the latter opinion when he told a House committee that this tool “generates more cost and enriches others not the homeowner.”

Michael Lynch
Author: Michael Lynch

Raised on the Space Coast, I want to keep North Brevard informed of what's happening. Send Tips / Story Ideas to TitusvilleMedia@gmail.com

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