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Citizens insurance discounts vanish when you hit Catch-22

I must confess to a cynical chuckle when I read in My Favorite Newspaper that the chief financial officer for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. paid $633 a night for a fancy resort room in Bermuda and that the head honchos of said corp. also got 10 percent pay raises, among other financial atrocities committed by that exalted institution.

The chuckle was brief, since the annual premium on my humble abode has recently increased by $416 a year — or roughly the bar tab for Grey Goose vodka and red wine during ONE meal for the Citizens bigwigs at Orlando's Ocean Prime reported in said publication. (Okay, somebody paid part of that back. Later.)

The reason for the increase reads like something out of Joseph Heller's World War II classic, Catch-22, a rule an MP explains means "agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of," or, as another fellow puts it, "Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing."

My travails started in May of 2007, when a nice gentleman from the My Safe Florida program came out to inspect my home. His report said that my tile roof didn't meet the minimum requirements for certification. It did say, however, that the roof-to-wall attachment is a single wrap, which is good. And that my gable ends are "braced at a minimum in accordance with the 2001 Florida Building Code," which is also good.

On the downside, the report pointed out that the exterior openings "are not covered with wind borne debris protection," which they weren't, since I only put up my plywood window covering right before a hurricane and he came on a sunny day. Also not counted was the $400 worth of metal bar reinforcements I had installed on my garage door.

So, wanting to be safer, I saved up my pennies and dollars and paid $23,000 to have engineer-certified hurricane-quality windows and sliding glass doors installed throughout my home and space-age Lexan panels installed over the beveled glass in my doors.

Only to learn that because my door frames were not built to Miami-Dade standards (which didn't exist when my doors were installed in 1990), there would be no discount. Installing such frames would cost in the thousands of dollars, and since the engineers assured me my doors were perfectly safe as they were, I shrugged and accepted the inevitable.

But, even so, I soldiered on, saving pennies and dollars for a new roof.

In May of 2011, off went the tiles and on went the lifetime-guaranteed shingles, including the longer nails at closer spacing and a peel-and-stick underlayment that provided the "secondary water resistance" element necessary for the insurance discount. And safety. At a cost of $8,500.

A state certified, licensed inspector verified that the roof had single strapping with the required three nails in the proper places and also had the "secondary water resistance (SWR) polymer modified bitumen roof underlayment." He signed proper forms, staking his reputation and livelihood on its veracity.

For good measure, the Pasco County building inspector inspected the job three times during the work period and certified the same information.

On top of that, the SWR underlayment is spelled out in my contract with the roofer (extra $360), canceled checks show I paid for it, and I personally watched the roofers apply it.

For one year, Citizens accepted these two engineer reports and gave me the "secondary water resistance" and roof cover discount.

But this year, they decided the presence of the SWR was "unknown." Thus, no discount and the $416 increase.

So I called Citizens and was told to send the engineers' reports — again. Which I did. Which they swore they didn't get. So my insurance agent emailed two copies, faxed a copy, and telephoned the supervisor to argue my case.

To no avail.

Instead, I got a letter saying "the 2011 MIT inspection cannot be used to adjust any credits from the 2012 inspection."

I called and talked to three different Citizens employees and fell smack into Catch-22.

They said the underwriters ruled that in order to get the discount, I would have to have their employee inspect the roofing every year. In other words, the Citizens inspector would have to come to my home once a year and actually see the water-resistant underlayment and the three nails in the strapping.

This means I would have to tear off the shingles every year for the inspector to see the underlayment. And, because the third, crucial strapping nail happens to be on top of the roof truss, I would have to tear off the shingles, underlayment and plywood decking so the inspector could see that nail. Every year.

I've told my tale of woe to friends, who urged me to consult an attorney.

But how can I do that and deprive dear Citizens of my extra $416? After all, if any of them has a conscience, they're going to need my money for a lot more Grey Goose vodka to dull their senses.

Citizens insurance discounts vanish when you hit Catch-22 02/22/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 8:26pm]
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