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Citizens Property Insurance weighs 8.2 percent rate hike

Published Dec. 12, 2018

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is seeking one of its largest rate hikes in recent years.

If approved by its board Wednesday, customers of the state-run insurer of last resort will be one step closer to an average 8.2 percent rise for homeowners' policies. In Tampa Bay, that means anywhere from a 4.3 percent increase to an 8.2 percent increase. The jump, Citizens said, is because of increased litigation over water damage claims not related to hurricanes in south Florida.

"Skyrocketing non-weather water losses in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have eroded financial progress made following more than a decade without a hurricane," the insurer said in a release.

In Tampa Bay, the proposed increases for multiperil homeowners insurance differ greatly by county. The hike would push Hillsborough County rates up an average of 8.2 percent, Hernando County rates up an average of 6.8 percent, Pinellas County rates an average of 4.3 percent and Pasco County rates an average of 7.1 percent.

Citizens currently has about 435,000 policyholders. The proposed rates would affect policies that are new or renewed beginning September 2019.

Citizens' rate hikes in recent years have been largely attributed to an increase in "assignment of benefits" claims, specifically in south Florida. The claims are generally for water damage that isn't attributed to a major storm, such as a hurricane, and happen when homeowners insurance companies dispute the price of a repair made by a contractor. The contractor then takes that insurer to court over the matter and gets awarded legal fees if they win.

This in turn causes legal fees for the insurer to increase, eventually pushing customer rates up to compensate.

The current rate hike vote was pushed back by the Citizens board of governors in June, when members decided to give a fledgling program aimed at addressing the issue a chance to work. That effort, the "Managed Repair Program," acts as a vetted list of contractors the insurer has approved for repairs to help its policyholders avoid contractors that could bring costly litigation.

Citizens policyholders likely will see greater rate hikes than those with other insurers, said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida. That's because the areas where most of the claims are concentrated (south Florida) are also where the bulk of its customers are located. But it's not just a Citizens problem.

An Insurance Information Institute report released Tuesday focused on the effect that these cases have on insurance rates. The consensus?

The increase in litigation "is making Florida homeowners insurance more expensive," the report said.

Should the board approve the increased rates, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier will need to approve them before they go into effect. Citizens' board votes on the issue Wednesday.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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