New data shows growing fire insurance dilemma in California
SACRAMENTO — New data collected by the Department of Insurance shows insurance is becoming harder to find for those in high wildfire-risk areas as a result of recent wildfires.
According to a news release, the data reveals there was a 6% increase in insurer-initiated homeowner policy non-renewals in Cal Fire State Responsibility Areas from 2017 to 2018, while zip codes affected by the devastating fires from 2015 and 2017 experienced a 10% increase in insurer-initiated non-renewals last year.
“We are seeing an increasing trend across California where people at risk of wildfires are being non-renewed by their insurer,” Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in the release. “I have heard from many local communities about how not being able to obtain insurance can create a domino effect for the local economy, affecting home sales and property taxes. This data should be a wake-up call for state and local policymakers that without action to reduce the risk from extreme wildfires and preserve the insurance market we could see communities unraveling.”
The data provided by insurers also revealed the availability of homeowners insurance dropped in high-risk counties. From 2015 to 2018, the release states, the number of new and renewed homeowners’ policies fell by 8,700 in the 10 counties with the most homes in high or very high-risk areas. These same counties saw a steady increase in new FAIR Plan policies during that timeframe, growing 177%, compared to only a 4% increase for the five counties with the lowest risk. The FAIR Plan provides insurance coverage as a last resort for homeowners who are unable to find coverage in the voluntary market.
Nearly 57% of new FAIR Plan policies are now written in State Responsibility Areas, which is up from 47% in 2015. Data shows there has been a 49% increase in surplus lines policies in State Responsibility Areas between 2015 and 2018.
The new data does not measure the full impact of non-renewals of homeowner policies linked to the devastating 2018 wildfires, including the Camp, Carr and Woolsey/Hill fires.
Since California law requires insurers to give a 45-day notice before a non-renewal and these wildfires occurred near the end of the year, the effects of these fires on the insurance market would likely appear in 2019 and possibly beyond.
In recent weeks, Lara has met with local leaders in counties affected by wildfire risk, and the Department of Insurance continues to pursue ideas to reduce risk to our communities through mitigation and stronger consumer protections.
Source: California Department of Insurance
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