Florida Regulators Aim to Help Thousands of Homeowners

03 Aug

Another Florida insurer is pulling out of the market, making it even more difficult for residents of the Sunshine State to find proper homeowners insurance in Florida. Bankers Insurance Group, based out of St. Petersburg, recently announced that it is pulling out of Florida’s home insurance market. Their decision was based on the fact that they don’t believe state lawmakers did enough during the home insurance special session to combat fraud and litigation.

“This decision was difficult, however, necessary to allow us to grow responsibly and maintain our long-term financial objectives,” the company said in recent press release. Bankers is now the 16th insurance company in the state that has dropped policies, gone bankrupt or stopped writing new policies in the state. 

Bankers policyholders will be notified that they have 4 months to find new insurance coverage. In addition to the latest failure, Demotech, a company that rates the financial strength of insurance companies, announced they will be downgrading 17 insurers that write policies in Florida from an “A” to an “S” (Substantial) or “M” (Moderate) rating.

Unfortunately, mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require homeowners to have a policy with an A-rated company which means homeowners with these insurers may have to find a new policy or risk defaulting on their mortgages.

This may also push more homeowners to find a policy with Citizens Property Insurance, which is the state’s insurer of last resort. However, these policies come with coverage limitations, it is only possible to insure homes valued at no more than $1 million in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and a $750,000 elsewhere. 

Legislation was signed into law in May that was designed to help protect the insurance industry while also lowering costs for homeowners. So far, the legislation has failed in both regards as insurers continue to struggle and rates continue to climb.

The new law created a $2 billion reinsurance catastrophe fund which allow insurers to purchase reinsurance which is basically insurance for insurance companies. Part of the law requires insurers reduce policyholders’ rates to access the state reinsurance fund. It also offers grants of up to $10,000 to retrofit homes so they are less vulnerable to hurricane damage. The legislation also prohibits insurers from denying coverage if the home has a roof that is less than 15 years old. 

However, since Demotech announced that they were downgrading 17 insurers, Florida insurers are taking an even more desperate step to correct the insurance market in Florida. In a recent press release, insurance regulators in Florida said they are taking an “unprecedented” and “extraordinary” step to help thousands of homeowners from being forced to look for new coverage which will be result of multiple insurance company downgrades.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation announced Wednesday that they plan to provide companies with reinsurance coverage through state-run Citizens Property Insurance if they are downgraded by Demotech. This means that if these companies fail, Citizens Property will be on the hook to cover those losses.  The fact that Florida is willing to assume this very real financial risk points to just how desperate the insurance market is in Florida. 

Recently, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier sent a letter to Demotech expressing his concerns that the company is considering downgrading “approximately 17” Florida insurers.

“OIR’s greatest priority is ensuring consumers have access to insurance, especially during hurricane season; and because of the uncertainty with the status of Demotech’s ratings, we’ve been forced to take extraordinary steps to protect millions of consumers,” Altmaier said at a recent press conference.

The OIR press release said that helping companies that have been downgraded with reinsurance will ensure that their policies are acceptable to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each offer an exception to the financial rating requirements for an insurer that is covered by a reinsurer who assumes, by endorsement, 100 percent of the insurer’s liability for any covered loss payable, but unpaid by the insurer, by reason of insolvency,” the press release states.

Demotech was supposed to release the rating downgrades on August 2nd but recently said it was taking more time to change the ratings. 

“As the current regulatory climate has become hostile and negative and we have and will expend a significant effort creating responses to third party letters, we will be taking additional time to review information and consider the issues affecting the companies operating in Florida,” the press release said.

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