Florida Residents May See Their Homeowners Insurance Rates Go Down

29 May

Florida residents may see their homeowners insurance rates go down in the near future as the Governor recently signed an assignment of benefits (AOB) reform into law. This was one of the most heavily lobbied bills in the 2019 session, but it managed to survive and be signed into law. 

An AOB is when a homeowner signs over their homeowner insurance policy benefits to a contractor. This allows the contractor to make some decisions about the job and bill the insurer directly. While an AOB may make life a bit easier for the homeowner, it has also led to inflated claims and lawsuits. 

Less than honest contractors overbill an insurance company for work or in some cases, bill for work that was not even done. When the insurer denies the claim, the contractor works with a law firm to sue the insurer. Because it is often cheaper to settle than go to court, the insurer ends up overpaying and passes those costs onto their customers via higher premiums for everyone. 

In many cases, homeowners are pressed by a contractor to sign an AOB in an emergency type situation. “Often times when an assignment of benefit is signed over, it’s kind of a panicky situation. There’s water coming out of the pipes in your house,” said Michael Peltier with Citizens Property Insurance in a recent Channel 7 article. 

In addition, insurers were often hit with a lawsuit well after they thought the claim was settled. “In 47% of the cases today for Citizens, we get a suit in and there’s never been any issue raised by the customer regarding the settlement amount. So we’ll settle with the customer and then 4 or 5 months later the attorneys will send in a suit. And that’s the first indication we have of any disagreement whatsoever with the customer,” said Barry Gilway, president and CEO of Citizens Property Insurance in a recent WJCT article.

The way the AOB law was written in the past, the insurance company had to pay the legal fees of anyone that brought a suit against them in regard to a claim. This means there was very little downside to bringing a lawsuit against an insurer as they had to cover your legal costs regardless of who won. This will change when the new law goes into effect.

The New Law

The new law stipulates that attorney fees could end up being paid by the insurance company, the contractor or both depending on who provides the best faith estimate of the repair costs. 

“This bill will allow attorney fees to be granted based on the settlement. If the settlement is less than 25% of the disputed amount the insurer collects the fees. If the disputed amount is between 25% and 50%, neither party collects the fees. If the disputed amount is over 50%, then the assignee collects the fees,” explained Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) in a recent WJCT article.

Gilway said this change was one of the most significant changes lawmakers made this year in the same WJCT article. He believes it removes an incentive for contractors to file lawsuits. “The problem today is that if a settlement is a dollar more than the original costs, then the insurance company owes plaintiffs fees,” Gilway said in the WJCT article. 

The new law also allows homeowners to opt out of an AOB agreement within 14 days of signing and also requires contractors to give insurers 10 days’ notice before filing a lawsuit. The law would also allow a homeowner to cancel an AOB at least 30 days after work was scheduled to start as long as the contractor hasn’t done substantial work.

Finally, the new law allows insurers to write policies that exclude the AOB provision altogether. 

Rates Should Decrease but It Could Take Some Time

Insurers expect rates to drop but experts warn it could take a while for those rate decreases to materialize. 

Citizens Property Insurance expected 3 percent of customers to see a rate decrease before the new law but they now expect that number to grow dramatically. 

However, industry experts warn consumers that it could take some time for rates to get back down to pre-AOB crisis amounts. 

“I think that we have to keep in mind that AOB abuse it took many years for that to truly materialize. And as it began materializing that’s when we began to seeing rates skyrocket. So if you think about the number of years it actually took for rates to become so rampant. I think it’s going to take a couple of years for things to unravel and for homeowners and consumers to see the benefit,” said Edie Ousley with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in the WJCT article.

Tags: , , , ,