One by one, homeowners made their way to the speakers’ podium in Melbourne City Hall’s council chamber to tell their personal horror stories about the property insurance industry.

Policies canceled without valid reason. Being declined for coverage by multiple carriers. Skyrocketing premiums. Insurers reject legitimate claims. Scams perpetrated to obtain “free roofs”.

Florida Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield and Florida Rep. Randy Fine heard it all, who promised state lawmakers would take action to help fix the mess in a session week-long legislative special that will begin in Tallahassee on May 23 and will focus on property insurance. reforms.

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Lawmakers, along with several local elected officials, were on hand to listen to residents’ problems – and their suggestions for solutions – during the town hall forum on the home insurance crisis. About 75 people were in attendance and 19 addressed the panel during the over two hour event.

Mayfield and Fine said this issue is the most common topic of voter calls and emails these days.

“I think what we heard today is the same thing we heard from all the voters who call the office and email us,” Mayfield said after the town hall event. . “Everything said is exactly what we hear over and over again.”

Mayfield said the Florida legislature tried to reach an agreement on insurance reform during its regular session earlier this year, but the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a plan. .

“We couldn’t cross the finish line,” Mayfield, R-Indialantic, said.

But she promised things would be different during the special session.

“I’m pretty confident we’ll have something” by the end of the week-long special session, Mayfield said. “Otherwise Governor DeSantis will extend the special session until we have done so. He is adamant that we will have an insurance policy before we leave Tallahassee. Governor DeSantis wants this problem solved.”

Meanwhile, problems have continued in the insurance market, with companies abandoning policies and seeking steep rate increases due to what industry officials say are significant financial losses. Several insurers have recently been placed in government receivership due to insolvencies.

Part of the fallout has also led to thousands of homeowners getting coverage each week from the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which was set up as an “insurer of last resort.”

Heads of state have long sought to shift citizen policy to the private market, at least in part because of concerns about the financial risks if the state were hammered by a major hurricane or multiple hurricanes.

Many ideas circulated during the public session.

Many have been designed to reduce costs for insurers in paying claims, beyond what should legitimately be paid. That’s so insurers don’t lose money from their Florida business — and don’t have to ask for huge premium increases to make up for their losses, or drop their presence in the state altogether.

Ideas that seemed to gain traction include:

  • Crack down on fraudulent claims for new roofs filed by unscrupulous adjusters or others who obtain an “assignment of benefits” contract from the homeowner to handle the claim, in exchange for reduced payments. In many cases, claims ask for a new roof for something like “hail damage” that was nothing more than typical minor wear and tear on an older roof.

    “That ‘free’ roof isn’t free,” Fine said, noting that rate increases granted by the state to property insurers are tied to the amount of money insurers pay out in claims.

  • Limit the amount of money lawyers can receive from handling lawsuits involving insurance claims. West Melbourne Councilor John Dittmore – who was on the panel and is involved in the insurance industry – said there was a disproportionate amount of payments to lawyers in Florida in property insurance cases, per compared to the rest of the country, citing data from Florida. Association of Insurance Agents.

    Mayfield said what’s being called “tort reform” in the prosecution process will “help weed out some of these bad actors. Tort reform is a must. We’re not going to fix this problem until we have not solved the tort reform”.

Cocoa's Mariann Tomasik was among 19 speakers who discussed their insurance problems and offered solutions at a forum at Melbourne Town Hall.
  • Link the amount of money a homeowner can receive from a roof damage insurance claim to the age of the roof and its current value, taking into account depreciation. Proponents of the concept have compared it to car insurance, in which the owner of a 15-year-old vehicle that is destroyed in an accident does not receive the amount of money that would pay for a brand new car.
Florida Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, addresses the audience at Thursday night's Home Insurance Forum at Melbourne City Hall.

Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey – who hosted the event at City Hall and has been involved in both the insurance and roofing industries – said the problem is compounded by the fact that the number of Property insurance companies doing business in Florida are steadily declining. Many companies are exiting the Florida market or going bankrupt, reducing competition in the industry.

This leaves Citizens Property Insurance as the only alternative for many homeowners who cannot obtain insurance in the private market. Citizens was established by the Florida Legislature in August 2002, as a nonprofit, tax-exempt government entity to provide homeowners insurance to eligible Florida homeowners unable to find insurance coverage in the private market. .

Citizens now has more than 851,000 policies in place, up from around 589,000 a year ago.

Palm Bay resident Luis Valdes, a former state insurance investigator, told lawmakers he doesn’t believe there are enough investigators in Florida to handle all cases of potential fraud.

Dittmore said this is also true within the insurance industry itself, as smaller insurers may not have special investigative units in place to look into suspicious claims cases.

Dittmore also said he’s noticed some property insurers are now restricting writing their policies in Brevard County, just as they previously did in some counties in central and southern Florida.

“Brevard is now treated differently” than some counties in Florida where property insurance is more readily available, Dittmore said. He said that’s partly because there’s a feeling among insurers that there are more cases of suspected insurance fraud in Brevard than in some other counties.

Dittmore is a former insurance fraud investigator who held this position for two insurance companies and is now an insurance agent in the Melbourne area.

Fine encouraged residents with property insurance issues to call their lawmakers’ offices with their complaints.

“There are good actors and bad actors” in the insurance industry, said Fine, R-Palm Bay. “They’re not all good and they’re not all bad.”

Mayfield also directed some speakers to a member of his staff so they could provide details of insurance companies, adjusters and roofers who might be colluding and profiting from their schemes.

Despite assurances from lawmakers that they will address the issue in the special session, some of the speakers expressed concern.

“I hope Mr. DeSantis hears the voice of the people,” Satellite Beach resident Chuck Keith said, “without all the lobbyist chatter.”

The Florida Press Service contributed to this story. Dave Berman is a business writer at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at [email protected] Twitter: @bydaveberman.

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