Fire Insurance Tips
In California, what seems to be a permanent wildfire season has caused millions of homeowners in fire-prone areas to pay soaring premiums for insurance coverage. Alternatively, many homeowners are simply being dropped by their existing carrier. As the severity of wildfires increase, insurance companies are becoming more and more reluctant to renew insurance policies and when they do, the premium often doubles or triples.
When a homeowner can’t get regular coverage, the California FAIR Plan is the option of last resort. The FAIR Plan provides basic fire insurance coverage for high-risk properties when traditional insurance companies will not insure. The FAIR Plan was established so all California property owners have access to fire insurance when access to traditional coverage is not available through no fault of the property owner. On the flip side, insurance companies assess potential losses and calculate whether to provide coverage and if so, what to charge. Insurers operating in California are taking the risk of wildfire seriously, which won’t change until the risk profile decreases and the insurance crisis will continue to worsen.
Below are some tips provided by the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) to help property owners find a new insurance plan or to maintain their current plan:
- Know Your Rights! The insurance company must notify you in writing, at least 45 days before the policy expiration date, if it will not renew the insurance policy on your home. If you did not receive proper notice, or you believe the non-renewal was unfair, you should contact the California Department of Insurance (DOI) at 1-800-927-HELP or online. There are circumstances when the insurer must renew your policy, including:
- Your policy may contain a guaranteed renewal provision. Check to see if you have this protection.
- If you lost your home in a declared disaster, California Insurance Code section 675.1 gives disaster victims the right to a renewal.
- If you receive notice of a rate increase or non-renewal, contact your insurance company (or have your insurance agent help you) to see if there are fire hardening steps you can take to change the company’s decision. Your local fire department may be able to help through a brush clearing assistance program or might recommend other ways to reduce fire risk.
- Start shopping for insurance early! The most important tip is to start shopping for insurance early. It takes time to complete applications and obtain quotes. Insurance agents can make the task easier. When contacting insurance agents, check to see if the agent works exclusively with one insurance company or is an agent who has access to multiple carriers. Keep track of which insurance companies are being contacted by each of the agents you work with, to make sure there is a thorough search of all options. Use this tool from the California Department of Insurance for finding an agent or broker near you.
- Check for policies written by admitted insurance companies. It is only admitted insurance companies that are backed by the California Insurance Guarantee Association (CIGA). They must file their rates and policy forms with the California Department of Insurance (DOI) and, most importantly, they are part of CIGA, which provides protections if the carrier becomes insolvent. The DOI has a list of admitted insurance companies.
- Make sure you are not underinsured. Check whether the policy will cover the expected cost to rebuild your home in compliance with current building codes. You should consider insuring your property for Replacement Cost Value, not just depreciated Actual Cash Value.
- Compare the types of coverage and limits, and feel free to ask questions. You can compare the types of coverage and limits using the DOI coverage comparison tool. Policies contain limits and exclusions. You may need to ask your insurance agent questions, including: Will this policy be adequate to cover the cost of rebuilding my home to its pre-loss condition? Does it cover demolition and debris removal? Is there a coverage limit on my temporary rent and expenses (Additional Living Expenses) while my home is being repaired or rebuilt? Are my home-based business property and operations covered? What causes of loss are not covered?
- Check surplus lines insurance options, if you are unable to obtain coverage through an admitted carrier. Surplus lines (aka “Non-admitted”) carriers do not file their rates and policy forms with the DOI and are not part of CIGA (which means CIGA will not provide protection should these non-admitted carriers become insolvent). However, these carriers often provide more flexible offerings. You should investigate the overall financial strength of the surplus carrier by a service such as A.M. Best to determine whether it offers the best solution.
- The Fair Plan is available as a last resort. If there are no other options, you or your insurance agent should contact California FAIR Plan at 1(800) 339-4099. The FAIR Plan policy can be expensive, and it only covers certain losses caused by fire and smoke. For other perils such as theft and liability, consumers will need to buy Differences in Conditions (DIC) insurance to fill the gaps. Here is a list of DIC carriers.