Homeowners asked Florida’s insurance consumer advocate for help with problems involving state-run Citizens and other insurers at a Palm Beach County forum Wednesday that also featured criticism that state officials are not doing enough.
One West Palm Beach woman said her family borrowed from retirement savings to pay off a mortgage because she could no longer tolerate premiums that climbed to $1,000 a month.
“I’m currently uninsured,” Danielle Tharin said.
A series of insurers including Florida Peninsula and Citizens raised rates, denied claims and dropped coverage for a variety of reasons until her lender imposed a “force-placed” policy that was intolerable, she said. Mortgage servicers typically require insurance coverage, so her family went to extreme lengths to pay off the mortgage and go without coverage, she said.
Other popular topics at the forum in Boca Raton, the fifth in a series held around the state: water damage claims and inspections that have denied credits for features designed to harden homes against hurricanes.
A public adjuster, David Reeb of Deerfield Beach, said in his experience complaints to state agencies such as the Division of Consumer Services are resulting in less action than in the past. Maybe his job tends to put him in contact with the most unhappy customers, as opposed to the satisfied ones, he said, but he sees a problem.
“They used to be effective, now they’re nothing more than a sounding board,” Reeb said. Insurers “are trampling on people,” he said.
Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott said her presence at the forum indicated she wanted to hear such concerns.
“I’m not disagreeing with you on what our responsibilty is, but there are people trying to make a difference on that,” Westcott said.
Using powers granted to her office by statute, she called in late October for the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation to investigate the state’s largest private property insurer, Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Co., over its claims practices. State regulators say they cannot discuss whether a market conduct examination is underway there, but Westcott said she is prepared to call for other probes as warranted.
“We’re going to work a little bit harder,” Westcott said.