Saturday, April 21, 2018
Business

Most Citizens Property customers in Tampa Bay will see lower rates

Most Tampa Bay area homeowners covered by Citizens Property Insurance will see their rates fall for the first time in years under a proposal disclosed Monday by the state-run insurer.

Citizens plans to cut rates in 2015 for nearly seven out of 10 policyholders statewide with the rates falling by an average of 3.2 percent. Mobile home owners would see average rates drop by 3.9 percent.

Among bay area counties, Citizens is proposing average rate cuts for most homeowners policies of 8 percent in Hillsborough; 8.9 percent in Pinellas; 6 percent in Pasco; and 9.5 percent in Citrus. Hernando County policyholders face an average increase of 0.4 percent.

Since 2010, state legislators have allowed Citizens to raise its rates up to an average 10 percent a year. For most property owners, Citizen now says, rates have caught up to become "actuarially sound." In other words, the higher rates now reflect the risk of insuring those properties.

"Pockets of inadequacy persist, mostly near the coast and for older homes, condos and mobile homes," Citizens said in its rate request. "But the majority of Citizens' policyholders will see an actuarially sound rate that is similar to last year's indications or even a bit lower."

Among the triggers for lower rates:

• Florida has enjoyed a string of eight hurricane-free years.

• Citizens is paying less for sinkhole claims after state legislators in 2011 changed the rules, largely limiting payouts in standard policies to cases of catastrophic ground collapse.

• The insurer is paying much less this year for reinsurance, an added layer of coverage that insurers buy to help pay catastrophe claims. Those savings are passed on through lower rates.

"Citizens has always been committed to charging only what is needed to establish actuarially sound rates and our proposed 2015 rates reflect that continued commitment," said Chris Gardner, the company's chairman of the board. "We've done nothing more than rely upon the same data we use every year to determine rates, and this year that data indicates a decrease is in order for most of our policyholders."

Citizens isn't alone. In a January report, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said a half dozen of the state's 30 major property insurers had asked to cut rates by 2.4 percent to 9.2 percent.

McCarty's office has not updated that report. However, a summary of filings so far this year shows companies are split between seeking rate hikes and rate cuts. Among insurers cutting rates this year are Florida Peninsula, Safe Harbor and Southern Oak.

Consumer advocates welcome the reprieve. Florida homeowners, they are quick to point out, pay more for property insurance than residents of any other state.

"It's good news," said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "We hope this would mean more of the private companies will reduce their rates as well."

Citizens, the state's largest insurer of homes, has actively tried to move many of its policyholders to private companies over the past few years. As of May 31, Citizens had fewer than 930,000 policies, down from about 1.5 million two years ago.

Many of the small, Florida-based companies that are taking on a bigger chunk of policies statewide in the past 10 years have not faced hurricane claims. Still, a dozen of them have failed during those hurricane-free years, even though state regulators assured they were sound. The latest example: regulators declared Jacksonville-based Sunshine State Insurance Co. insolvent this month, pushing its 37,000 policyholders to another carrier.

Before Citizens policyholders rejoice too much over Monday's news, they should recognize there's a caveat. As Citizens points out, even if a policyholder's base rate declines, their annual premium may still rise next year.

That's because the rates only refer to how much a homeowner must pay per $1,000 of insured value. A rise in property values and reconstruction costs can drive an annual policy premium higher, regardless of a falling insurance rate.

Citizens' Board of Governors will consider the recommended rate changes on Wednesday. The board, in turn, must submit its proposal to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation for approval.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434.

Comments
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Published: 04/21/18
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18