Florida’s Distressed Property Insurance Market Update

08 Dec

In Florida, a former state senator has been petitioning lawmakers to address Florida’s distressed property insurance market and is now advocating for reforms ahead of another special session that has been called to address the issue later this month.

“It’s the most urgent pocketbook problem facing Florida today,” said former Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes in a recent WFSU article. Brandes represented part of Pinellas County until he was term limited. Brandes recently retired from the legislature but continues to work in real estate and is planning to start a think tank focusing on issues facing the state including property insurance.

“This is the Achilles’ heel of the Florida real estate market. This is the Achilles’ heel of Florida’s growth,” Brandes said in the WFSU article. “If Florida doesn’t get this right, then what you’re going to do is cut the middle class in the state because people will not be able to afford homes.”

Florida homeowners who have purchased homeowners insurance in the private market have seen their premiums rise by about 33% over the last few years and experts are predicting that rates will be headed up almost 40% next year. Currently, over 1 million homeowners are insured via Citizens Property, the state insurer of last resort. Citizens Property typically offers rates that come in 20 percent below the private market rate. 

Because private market insurers are constantly being sued and have to fight fraudulent claims in Florida, many have left the state or have gone insolvent. This year, at least six insurers have pulled out of the Florida market and roughly 24 insurers are on the brink of bankruptcy. 

“I saw this quickly becoming the number one issue in my community [that] my constituents are facing,” Brandes warned in the WFSU article.

State lawmakers have been called into a special session in Tallahassee Dec. 12 – 16 to work on and hopefully pass legislation that will address the state’s troubled property insurance market. Insurers suffered another setback when Hurricane Ian made landfall in September and destroyed thousands of homes in Florida.

Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature but will most likely have a tough time dealing with the cost of reinsurance which has risen dramatically in the last few years. 

The Republican supermajority in the legislature will likely face tough choices when it comes to the rising cost of reinsurance. Republican House Speaker Paul Renner said in the recent WFSU article, “When you have a market that is that is challenged, I think it’s fair to say, you have to consider things that I as a conservative would not wish to do, which is put up some of our reserves to backstop the private market.”

According to the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation, six insurance companies have pulled out of the state this year and currently, a couple of dozen insurers are close to running out of funds. 

Mark Friedlander, with the Insurance Information Institute, predicts that rate increases will only continue in the WFSU article. “And there’s a variety of factors there: the continuing issues of litigation abuse and roof claim abuse, combined with Hurricane Ian losses, combined with the higher cost of reinsurance.”

According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation roughly 76% of the homeowners’ lawsuits against insurance companies in the nation are filed in Florida, despite the fact that the state accounts for 8% of all claims in the U.S.

The insurance industry would like to see lawmakers bring an end to “one-way attorney fees” which property insurance companies are required to pay whenever they lose a case. This practice acts as an incentive to lawyers to sue insurers. 

“Florida is very liberal when it comes to those fees compared to other states,” Frieldander said in the WFSU article. “As a result, once again, it’s an incentive to sue insurers, which we don’t have in other states because of much stricter regulations.”

Data shows that there were 116,000 lawsuits filed in Florida against insurers. Officials estimate that lawsuits could hit 130,000 this year but that number will likely be low as it was before Hurricane Ian hit Florida.

Because so many lawsuits have already been filed, it is very unlikely that the insurance market will stabilize in the near future, even if lawmakers manage to bring an end to one way attorney fees. 

“Any changes in the laws will not impact any lawsuits that have already been filed,” Friedlander said in the WFSU article. “Sometimes lawsuits could take several years to play out in the court system, so nothing is going to change immediately.”

Tags: , ,