Citizens Changing Rules on Wind Mitigation Credits

By BRENT KALLESTAD | August 20, 2012

Executives from the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. announced Friday they are making changes with a goal of ensuring homeowners receive storm mitigation credits for qualified homes.

Board Chairman Carlos LaCasa said the new measures are designed to provide some relief to customers upset over disputes on wind mitigation credits that result in higher premiums. It has been a particularly heated issue in South Florida where a large chunk of Citizens’ 1.4 million policyholders live.

“We’re committed to improving the program,” LaCasa said.

Mitigation credits are given to homeowners who add extra precautions, such as shutters, to their homes to protect against storm damage.

LaCasa, a former state legislator from Miami, said that Citizens would do a follow-up inspection at no charge to customers whose mitigation credits were removed because of inadequate attic access or those who disagreed with the original findings. LaCasa also said that going forward the company will suspend removing a credit for one year if inspectors are unable to gain attic access for any reason.

Any Citizens customer who made improvements can ask for a re-inspection and have a credit retroactively awarded, but Citizens will not return any premiums retroactively.

Better communication among Citizens, its agents and clients are at heart of changes sought by new chief executive officer Barry Gilway.

“How we communicate our programs, initiatives and goals is at the core of Citizens’ plans moving forward,” Gilway said Friday.

The Legislature created Citizens a decade ago with the intent of providing an affordable, last-resort option for consumers left without adequate coverage as private carriers began fleeing from Florida’s hurricane-threatened marketplace. But lawmakers have largely been unsuccessful in efforts to shrink Citizens, which has instead grown from a last option to the state’s largest property insurer. The company would be hard pressed to pay claims in the event of a catastrophic storm, leaving its customers open to potentially thousands of dollars in assessments.

“Citizens’ has a long way to go to mitigate public opinion, but free second inspections and enhanced dispute resolutions seem like a step in the right direction,” said Sean Shaw, a consumer advocate and founder of the Policyholders of Florida. “Without more concrete details, policyholders need to take a trust-but-verify approach. Our economic recovery depends on a healthy, stable housing market – which is why we need Citizens to finally walk the walk.”

LaCasa also said Citizens in reviewing its travel and expense policies after media reports critical of what may have been unnecessary trips.

Citizens’ board plans details on more changes at its next meeting, Sept. 6-7, in Tallahassee.

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