Fire Insurance Cancellation Resources
Some Marin residents have been informed that their insurer is not renewing their policy, for a variety of reasons – often associated with wildfire risk.
Insurance companies manage their risk in catastrophe-prone areas.
- Insurers cannot insure all the properties in an area.
- It is important for them to be able to pay claims should there be a catastrophe.
- Having a healthy, competitive insurance market is good for consumers.
The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) recommends that home or business owners shop and compare to find the best insurance coverage to meet their individual needs.
- In very high-risk wildfire situations, the California FAIR Plan is the insurer of last resort for fire insurance, and people usually purchase a wrap-around policy to cover other perils and liability along with it.
- They can usually get two or three quotes to compare.
- If they live in a wildfire risk area, it may be easier for them to contact a local insurance broker who knows which companies are writing new home or business coverage in that particular area.
- Policyholders Are Being Paid: Over $15 billion in claims have been paid out, and customers are being helped through the claims process.
- Wildfires Are Insurable: Unlike earthquakes, insurers are able to plan for wildfire risks. The California Earthquake Authority was a result of insurers leaving the market because they could not predict and insure that risk. Insurers are not leaving the home insurance market.
- Homeowners Drive Policy Switches: Policyholders are 2.5 times more likely to change their home insurer than to be non-renewed.
- Another good resource is StrongerCA Coalition. They are committed to ensuring that homeowners, communities, and businesses are protected with improved vegetation management, land practices, and the availability of affordable insurance.
Fire Safe Marin is working with CSAA to improve community education related to wildfire insurance and home hardening.
For information on CSAA Insurance Group and non-renewals, please contact CSAA Insurance Group Public Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org
- CSAA Insurance Group has provided homeowners insurance to AAA members in Northern California for more than 40 years. Over that time, they have helped thousands of AAA members successfully recover from wildfires and other disasters.
- To continue offering industry-leading insurance coverage at competitive rates, CSAA Insurance Group must periodically evaluate their exposure to catastrophic risk. After careful review of their exposure in Northern California, they are non-renewing a very small percentage of insurance policies with the highest risk.
- Non-renewals are being handled with great care and with enough advance notice to allow people time to find alternative coverage.
- AAA insurance agents are offering these members help by reviewing their options for coverage.
Did Your Insurer Notify You of a Non-Renewal?
The following information is provided by United Policyholders (www.uphelp.org) and Fire Safe Marin.
If you are one of the many Californians whose insurance company has notified you that they will not be renewing your home policy, do not panic, but start shopping ASAP. By law, insurance companies have to give you 45-days notice*, and you may need that much time to get them to reverse their decision and/or find a replacement policy you can afford.
In most parts of the state, you still have buying options; and, insurance companies are still competing for your business. But if you live in a brush-heavy or forested area that’s been hit by recent wildfires, it may be hard to find a company willing to insure your home. When you find a replacement policy, it will probably cost more but provide less protection than your old policy. And, this policy may be through what is known as a “non-admitted” insurer.” These types of companies are picking up customers that “admitted”** (well-known brand) insurers are dropping.
United Policyholders may be able to help you shop and deal with this unfortunate situation, and they are working on initiatives to fix it. To learn more about the reasons why so many insurance companies are reducing the number of homes they’re insuring in parts of California, visit the Advocacy and Action section of uphelp.org.
1. Try to Get Your Insurer to Reverse its Decision and Renew Your Policy
There are limited circumstances where an insurer must renew your policy:
- You have a policy with a guaranteed renewal provision. A few companies offer this. Some AARP members who bought through The Hartford have this protection.
- You lost your home in a declared disaster within the past two years: CA Insurance Code section 675.1 gives disaster victims the right to one or two renewals when their policy comes up for renewal.
- Your home was damaged in a declared disaster within the past two years.
What you can do:
- Act quickly! You have a very limited timeline to argue for a decision reversal!
- Contact your local fire department and request a wildfire hazard inspection immediately. They may be able to inspect your property, give you a list of corrections, and then once you complete the required work, write a letter attesting to your property meeting fire codes and standards. Note: your property MUST meet defensible space standards to the letter or the law before the fire department will write this letter! You should also consider making home hardening upgrades immediately as well.
- Contact your current insurance company and ask them if there are improvements you can make to your home that will help qualify you for a renewal. Give them your best arguments for keeping you as a customer. If you bought your expiring policy through an agent, ask them to go to bat for you with the company.
- NOTE: If your insurer did not give you 45 days notice, or their reasons for dropping you seem unfair, seek help from the California Department of Insurance (CDI) at 1-800-927-HELP, www.insurance.ca.gov.
2. Don’t Panic; Start Shopping
Contact the insurance agent you’ve been using, or ask trusted sources for recommendations to an “independent” insurance agent. Independent agents have relationships with multiple insurance companies. A “captive” agent that sells for companies like State Farm, Farmers, or Allstate probably can’t help you, as they’re limited to only one insurance company.
Visit UP’s website, www.uphelp.org, and click on the “Insurance Finder” link on the right side of their home page. Try using the Match UP Insurance Finder.
Try the California Department of Insurance’s shopping tools. They offer a list of CA home insurance companies and a list of companies that sell “DIC” (“Difference in Conditions”) policies that fill gaps in Fair Plan policies. www.insurance.ca.gov
If your best coverage and price option is through a “non-admitted” (also called “surplus lines”) insurance company, check their financial strength rating with Demotech, A.M. Best, or another agency before you buy. This is important. If a non-admitted insurer runs out of money to pay claims (becomes “insolvent”***), their customers are not protected by the same safety net that “admitted” well-known brands have under them, and the CA Dept. of Insurance has less oversight power over them.
3. Shop Smart
Your policy should cover what it would likely cost to rebuild your home in compliance with current building codes if it were to be completely destroyed by a natural or manmade disaster of any kind. But many policies don’t. Don’t blindly trust that your agent or insurer is selling you a policy that will fully protect your assets. UP surveys show that 2/3 of U.S. homes are underinsured. Shop for a policy that will adequately insure your dwelling for a total loss fire, (including building code upgrades) then add coverage for flood and quake protection if you can afford it. Ask the right questions and take good notes while shopping.
- Aim to insure your property for Replacement Cost Value, not depreciated Actual Cash Value.
- Coverage for building code upgrades and an extended replacement cost rider are worth paying for.
- Your dwelling coverage limit should match local construction costs (per square foot) for a home of similar style, age, and quality, plus an “extended replacement cost” feature for extra protection.
- Choose the highest deductible you feel comfortable with to keep the cost of your coverage manageable.
4. The FAIR Plan is a Last Resort
If you strike out in the “normal” marketplace, you can buy home insurance through the California Fair Plan. Call them at (800) 339-4099 (www.cfpnet.com). The CA FAIR Plan is a state-run home insurance program for people who can’t find a better option. Fair Plan policies provide only basic fire protection (no liability or theft) and cost more than a traditional policy. If you end up having to buy a Fair Plan policy, we recommend two things: shop again in six months. New options may be available. And, if you can afford to, add supplemental coverage for what a Fair Plan policy excludes. Not all insurance agents are familiar with these options, so visit http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/105-type/5-residential/carriersDICpolicies.cfm for more information.
Discounts are available on the FAIR plans for homeowners who live within nationally recognized Firewise USA sites.
* With a few exceptions, your insurance company can drop (non-renew) you as long as they give you written notice at least 45 days prior to the date your old policy will expire, and as long as they are following their own guidelines and not discriminating against you. Their guidelines must be objective, have a substantial relationship to the risk of loss, and be applied consistently. Common reasons for non-renewal include wildfire risk, the age or condition of the property, lack of defensible space, type of roof or construction. The 45-day notice must contain the reason or reasons for the nonrenewal, the telephone number of the insurer’s representatives that handle consumer inquiries or complaints, and a statement that you can have the insurer’s nonrenewal decision reviewed by the CDI.
** “Admitted” insurers are fully regulated by the CA Department of Insurance and their customers are protected by the CA Insurance Guarantee Association (CIGA) if their insurer becomes insolvent (runs out of money). “Non-admitted” insurers are not regulated.
*** CIGA – the CA Insolvency Guarantee Association pays up to $500,000 per home if the insurer goes insolvent.
Please notify United Policyholders if you have trouble finding affordable coverage for your property by emailing email@example.com.