URBANA When Dennis Roberts' car insurance started getting a bit too expensive, he did what a lot of consumers do and shopped around.
Then he picked a new company and switched both his home and auto coverage, never expecting what it was going to cost him.
A few weeks after he switched, his new insurer sent an inspector over to his home in Urbana to look at the roof, then notified him he needed a roof replacement, Roberts said. Refusing would mean cancellation of his new policy.
But the roof on his home wasn't failing, he argued. While it's 18 years old, it was expected to last 25 years, and most of it is in good shape.
"To me, it looked fine," Roberts said.
A city alderman, Roberts started asking around to see whether anything like this was happening to other people.
He's heard from dozens of homeowners in Urbana who have had similar experiences with insurance companies demanding they replace their roofs, along with roofers who have been seeing this trend on the rise.
And he's concerned because roofs aren't cheap and many people can't afford that kind of unexpected expense.
Roofs can run $7,000 and more, and people he has heard from have been given 30 to 90 days by their insurers to get the roofing jobs done, Roberts said.
"If you own your own home and have a fixed income, where are you going to get the money in 30 days?" he asked.
Making an insurance switch to save money on rates? Becoming a new home insurance client is what triggered insurers to send inspectors to look at their roofs, several local homeowners said.
Roberts has been keeping a list of local homeowners who have contacted him about being threatened with denial of coverage unless they replace their roofs, and the companies they've dealt with include American Family, Liberty Mutual, Allstate, Ohio Casualty, State Farm, Farmers, Standard Mutual, Country Financial, Cincinnati Insurance, Travelers, AAA, Auto-Owners and Geico.
Local Realtor Jonah Weisskopf said he was running into roof demands from insurers through buying investment properties until he finally purchased a commercial policy with an exemption for roofs.
New roofs on two houses he bought in 2013 cost him $20,000, he said, and "neither of the roofs leaked or anything."
Last fall, Jeff Machota of Urbana said he switched home and auto coverage looking for better car insurance rates and he, too, was hit with an unexpected roof inspection and demand to replace it in 90 days.
A new roof was on his someday list of improvements for this house, Machota said, but it was a few years down the road since the roof wasn't yet failing. It was late fall and he argued with the insurer that it wasn't the season to reroof a home, he said, but was told any company he switched to would require replacing the roof.
Dennis Roberts' own story took even more twists as he turned back to his old insurer after the new roof demand. Since he'd been gone from his old company more than 30 days, he was considered a new client.
"They said as a new client, they would be required to inspect my roof," he said.
Roberts said he had four roofing companies inspect his roof and three told him it looked OK, although a close appraisal showed moderate wear on certain sections of one side of one gable.
Eventually, he secured a 90-day extension, but he had to show his new insurer a signed contract with a roofer. Then, Roberts said, he switched insurers yet again, and worked out a deal in which his roof is insured separately for its replacement value only.
Randy Roberts, the operator of Roof Doctors (and no relation to the alderman), has found insurers requiring roof replacements becoming more of an industrywide practice.
"Each year, this has become more widespread, more common, more insurance companies," he said.
Sometimes, the roofs really are in bad enough shape to need replacement, he said, "but many are nowhere near ready to be replaced."
Fellow roofing contractor Cord Schroeder of Bash-Pepper Roofing said he began seeing more of this trend four to eight years ago.
"We get about 10 calls a week for people saying their insurance companies are telling them they need a roof," he said.
What irks both roofers is insurers often won't take their word for it when they inspect roofs for the homeowners and tell insurance companies roof replacements aren't needed yet, they said.
Both said a professional evaluation requires an inspection at the roof level, "but they don't even go on the roof," Randy Roberts said of insurance inspectors.
"I've written probably 50 letters to insurance companies telling them the roof is OK, and they just don't care," Schroeder said.
He's been successful getting insurers to back off a roof demand for a homeowner about 10 to 15 times, Schroeder said, but "half the time these days, I don't waste my time writing a letter."
Of the insurance cases he's been asked to evaluate for homeowners, Schroeder said he'd say 25 percent of the time, the roofs have needed replacement and 25 percent of the time they've been fine. The other half of the roofs fall somewhere in the middle.
"A solid 25 percent have five years or more left, and those people should not get roofs," he said.
Nick Adams, co-owner of the Allstate Insurance agency at 604 S. Neil St., C, said a roof inspection is customary for new clients.
"That's something we do, yes," he said.
He understands having to replace a roof is frustrating for a customer, he said, but from the insurer's side, roofs are the most common source of homeowner claims filed in Illinois. And on the flip side, anyone who does get a new roof should notify their agent, because that can save them money on rates.
"If you have a new roof, that's the best time to shop for home insurance. That's the biggest discount we offer," he said.
Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the New York-based Insurance Information Institute, said if an insurance company tells you to replace your roof, you're likely going to have replace it anyway.
"There may be difference of opinion as to when," she said.
Insurance companies are, by nature, risk-adverse, she said, but this practice isn't only to protect insurance companies, Worters said. Roofs are the first line of defense for homes in wind storms, hail, tornadoes and other weather events.
"It's really for the benefit of the person," she said. "I'm sure they don't feel that way, because they have to pay for it."
Since he signed a contract to replace his roof, Dennis Roberts said he plans to honor that and get the job done this fall. But he believes the insurance industry is treating homeowners unjustly, and he's not giving up on behalf of fellow consumers.
He's filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's office, talked to state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, about his concerns and met with staff from the state Department of Insurance.
He also wants to continue to hear from other homeowners who are getting roof demands from their insurers, and hopes to get state lawmakers interested in taking another look at homeowner insurance practices.
"I just feel like something has to happen," Roberts said.
Meanwhile, homeowners facing roof replacement demands have options, according to Roberts. For example, they can ask insurers for a printed copy of any home inspection affecting their properties, they should never accept an offer from an insurance agent to send someone to fix the roof, and they should always ask for an extension during the winter and file a complaint with the Department of Insurance if an extension is denied until the roof can be done in more reasonable weather.
Schroeder further advises making sure you get a reputable roofer to look at your roof.
There are plenty of insurers who want your business, he said. If your roof is in OK shape, and you can't work out equitable terms with one insurer, shop around for another, he advised.
"If one of them doesn't want your business because they don't like your roof, I'm sure there's one that does," he said.
Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, http://bit.ly/2cmU3If
Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Champaign) News-Gazette.