ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Lawmakers have until a Monday deadline to indicate whether they believe a special session is necessary to address skyrocketing property insurance rates.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee sent a letter to lawmakers Thursday asking if they would support a special session regarding property insurance. Sixty percent of the entire Florida legislature would need to say 'yes' for it to happen.
"If they don't, listen, prices are going to keep going up. Companies are going to continue to fail and consumers are going to have less choices," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-Pinellas County, who recently called for a special session currently being discussed. "So without [lawmakers'] active engagement, then Floridians are left with fewer and fewer options and higher and higher prices."
Insurance costs are rising nationwide, driven largely by inflation and a rise in claims due to natural disasters. Brandes, however, said the situation in Florida is worse. The state senator said dishonest contractors are convincing unsuspecting homeowners to sign off on too-good-to-be-true deals, promising to get them a brand-new roof for the price of their deductible, leading to a spike in fraud lawsuits.
"What effectively is happening right now in Florida is you and I are buying our neighbor's brand-new roofs and paying for it in higher insurance premiums," said Brandes "This is a fraud problem, a roof claims problem that has really metastasized throughout the state of Florida. And frankly, it's the reason that insurers are pulling out of Florida."
Insurers in the Tampa Bay area said homeowners are seeing their rates increase significantly.
"I've seen increases in excess of 100%," said Ed Fandel, President of Pineapple Insurance in Tampa. "If I had to look at an average, I'd probably say you're in the 20 to 30%, is kind of standard. And I think that is a combination of what we what you would describe as a base rate change as well as kind of some of the inflationary changes that they want to make."
Fandel said insurers are also choosing to not renew certain clients, often due to the age of the home or the roof on the structure; some companies are refusing to cover roofs that are older than 10 years.
"That, to me, is probably the area that's probably causing the biggest change from a marketplace perspective, and that is what's leading consumers to shop," said Fandel, adding he recommends homeowners shop for policies that better fit their budgets. "I think that there are things that people can do. You can look at the deductible on your policy. You could potentially look at maybe taking an actual cash value option with respect to your roof that could generate some savings. But I'd say the number one thing is talk to your insurance agent or reach out and get a quote potentially to see if there's an opportunity to generate some savings."
Sen. Brandes said there's a chance lawmakers don't respond to the Florida Secretary of State's poll at all. If so, Brandes plans to continue pushing to get to the 60% threshold needed to convene a special session, which he wants to happen in the next 60 days and, ideally, before the start of hurricane season on June 1.