Inability to Cash Checks Frustrates Fla. Homeowners; Some Repairs at a Standstill

December 29, 2004

Although insurance checks have been cut Florida homeowners are now calling the state’s storm victim hotline to complain because they can not get the money without two signatures.

Tom Gallagher, Chief Financial Officer, confirmed that numerous calls are being received at the hotline because insurance companies make checks payable to both the homeowner and the mortgage holder, and they can not be cashed without both signatures.

Mortgage companies and financial institutions usually have other requirements to go through before they can endorse an insurance check.

“As people collect their checks, they’re frequently caught off guard by procedures they are asked to comply with,” Nina Banister, a spokeswoman for the Department of Financial Services explained.

Bethany Corum, executive vice president for the Florida Bankers Association, told the Fort Myers News-Press that FBA members are working with customers to make the process work as quickly as possible.

“The banks that I’ve spoken with have an expedited process in place,” Corum said. “We do this to protect our collateral, and our customers. If we release all the funds and there is incomplete or shoddy work done then the customers come back and ask why this happened.”

Corum emphasized that her association represents banks in Florida, and mortgage brokers located outside the state may require different procedures.

Banister said DFS’s first priority is to provide information to consumers. If appropriate, a phone call intervening on behalf of a consumer might be made.

DFS suggested working closely with banks and other financial institutions and gave consumers some tips:

• Forward claim checks to your mortgage lender for its endorsement.

• Don’t endorse the check yourself before the lender does so.

• Mortgage lenders may require an estimate for repairs before releasing any money.

• Ask if a portion of the money can be released to get work started.

• Don’t pay contractors in cash, or in full, until the work is done.

Gallagher said people who’ve had problems or delays should call his department’s consumer hot-line at (800) 22-STORM.

“Your bank may choose to release funds only as repairs are complete but should also remain focused on assisting you in restoring your home as quickly as possible,” Gallagher said.

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