Homeowners insurance crisis: Tampa Bay woman reports roofer who told her she had storm damage
NBC - 8 WFLA (Tampa, FL)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida lawmakers assembled in Tallahassee Monday for a special session to address the state's property insurance crisis.
Hundreds of viewers have reached out to 8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi in past months, saying they've seen their property insurance rates skyrocket – doubling or even tripling in one year. Other Floridians are losing their coverage altogether.
Will there be major property insurance reform at Florida special session?
The proposed legislation lawmakers are set to discuss this week is not expected to have an immediate impact on premiums. Lawmakers hope the changes stabilize the market and attract new insurers to the sunshine state.
Industry experts say roofing schemes are putting the market on the verge of a meltdown. Florida has a litigation problem, unlike any other state.
In 2019, three out of four property insurance lawsuits in the entire country happened in Florida, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR).
Kathy Metz is a retired nurse living in Beverly Hills, Florida. The Citrus County town isn't filled with celebrities – instead, it's home to working families and seniors.
"My roof is old, it's just wear and tear," said Ms. Metz.
Early last month, however, Metz says a roofer told her otherwise. The man knocked on her door and handed her a flyer stating, "You Have Storm Damage."
"I knew I didn't have storm damage," said Ms. Metz. "I cannot in good faith let someone bill my insurance company when it's not, in fact, a legit claim."
Metz reported the encounter to her insurance company. She even wrote a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis in April.
A homeowner from Naples filed a similar complaint about this particular roofer with the Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's Office.
Property insurance fraud: Why are there so few convictions in Florida?
In the complaint, obtained by 8 On Your Side, the homeowner wrote, "Our residence does not have storm damage… This company did door hangers throughout our neighborhood."
8 On Your Side reached out to the roofing company to get their side. In a statement, the founder of the company said, "we pride ourselves on educating property owners" and that many consumers are "unaware" of roof damage.
This roofer aside, lawmakers say, in general, inflated claims cost us all. At times, the business practice crosses the line into fraud.
During a news conference in Clearwater on May 4, 8 On Your Side asked Gov. Ron DeSantis for a solution.
"You created a task force to combat election-related fraud. Multiple lawmakers tell me there is massive, massive fraud, in another arena: The property insurance market. Do you support creating a task force to combat property insurance fraud as well?" Investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked.
"We're doing the special session! So, you had asked about that and we're doing it," Gov. DeSantis said. "We've got huge problems with how this market is done. And so, I would love to see anti-fraud measures. If you look at the way Florida does… in the most recent numbers, we represent 8% of all property insurance claims nationwide but we account for 78% of the litigation nationwide. And so, all those costs are going into driving up rates. Actually, companies are failing and some of those companies made some mistakes for sure. But we need to have a situation where if some company jacks up your rates, you've got four or five other options to choose from and so they actually have to compete for your business. We do not have that now. We're going to do the session to try to deal with that."
Homeowners insurance crisis: Could reform of Hurricane Catastrophe Fund save Floridians $150 a year?
"There has absolutely been a lot of fraud, there's no question about it," he added. "And look, at the end of the day, the people that, that hurts are just our basic homeowners. It hurts a lot of elderly people. But we have underlying problems with this system and you need to address it. We're going head on, I want to take on as much as we can and I want to get it done."
In a memo sent to colleagues on Friday, State Rep. Jay Trumbull, the House Appropriations Committee Chair, outlined measures aimed at preventing fraud. The House proposal "limits attorney fee multipliers in property insurance litigation by only allowing them to be awarded in rare and exceptional circumstances," wrote Trumbull.
The bills also aim to eliminate attorney fee awards in lawsuits involving Assignment of Benefit (AOB) cases. In AOB cases, the homeowner transfers the insurance claims rights or benefits to a third-party contractor.
Lawmakers also want to require contractors, in their written solicitations, to include the following statements: "The consumer is responsible for the payment of any deductible," and "It is insurance fraud punishable as a felony to intentionally file an insurance claim containing false, fraudulent, or misleading information."
Meanwhile, Ms. Metz did upgrade her roof. She chose a different company and her pocketbook took a hit.
"It was finished yesterday, it's at my expense, not the insurance company," said Ms. Metz.
If you have a property insurance tip or if you have experienced fraud and would like to share your story, email Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at [email protected].