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Florida approves 14.6% hike to Universal Property's homeowners insurance rates

Universal Property and Casualty Insurance has received approval from Florida regulators to raise its average homeowners insurance rates about 14.6 percent statewide.

Universal is the second-largest private insurer in Florida behind State Farm, which is in the midst of negotiating a withdrawal from the state's property insurance market. As of the beginning of this year, Universal had 461,000 policies, or about 7.5 percent of the market, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

The company is among a flurry of insurers that have sought to raise rates in recent months.

Despite a third straight mild hurricane season, insurers contend their revenue and expenses are taking a hit. In particular, insurers have cited higher reinsurance costs and lowered premiums because of state-mandated discounts for homeowners who have taken steps to shore up their homes against hurricane damage.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has said that each request is being considered on its own merits, but in general he sympathized with the rationale for seeking higher rates.

"They're not generating enough revenue. They're not making adequate profits," McCarty told the Times earlier this month.

The upward trending in rates also affects the largest insurer in Florida, state-run Citizens Property Insurance, which has been allowed to end a three-year rate freeze. Effective Jan. 1, Citizens plans to raise rates 10 percent for most of its 1 million policyholders, the first step in what the company sees as a multiyear effort to build reserves through higher rates.

And State Farm recently was allowed to eliminate some long-standing discounts for customers. The lost discounts translated to premium increases for homeowners of as much as 28.4 percent. State Farm said the move, which would bring it an additional $278 million in premiums, was necessary to stay solvent as it slowly pulls out.

Universal's higher rates were effective Thursday for new business and Dec. 11 for renewal business, according to the company's Fort Lauderdale-based parent, Universal Insurance Holdings.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jeffmharrington.

Florida approves 14.6% hike to Universal Property's homeowners insurance rates 10/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2009 10:46pm]
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