Florida ‘Home Hardening’ bill touted as insurance relief, but puts costs up front

Consumers say law doesn’t offer homeowners enough help

ORLANDO, Fla. – As we head into hurricane season, tens of thousands of Floridians are paying much more for their homeowner’s insurance or being dropped altogether.

Lawmakers claim new legislation that just passed will offer homeowners relief, but some consumers like Susie Blanchard say the law is lip service at best.

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Blanchard says her stress started when she got a notice of non-renewal from her homeowner’s insurance saying her policy would be dropped in early April.

“We never made any claims. Nothing. We always paid on time, and we still were dropped,” Blanchard told News 6.

The reason: her 18-year-old roof.

“I went kicking and screaming not wanting to get a roof,” Blanchard said.

But no other company would insure her based on the age of her roof, and with the clock ticking until her policy expired, she felt she had no choice.

She thought her problems would be solved if she got a new roof, according to Blanchard.

She took the lowest bid, paid more than $14,000 for a new roof, plus another $5,000 to have her solar panels removed and put back on, Blanchard said.

But the insurance problem wasn’t solved.

“Well, even after we got a brand-new roof, it was just very difficult to get insurance,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard’s former insurer was St John’s Insurance.

Just months after she received her non-renewal letter, the company was liquidated.

It was the state’s eighth-largest insurer with 170,000 policies at one point.

It joins a list of other Florida insurers now being liquidated.

A company called Slide picked up about 140,000 policyholders who were with St. John’s.

Many in the industry thought those people would have to turn to Citizens Insurance, which is the state-backed insurance of last resort.

Citizens now has about 800,000 policies, according to a company spokesperson.

They say they are adding about 5,000 policies per week.

The problem is they are not meant to be that big.

Some experts in the field say if Citizen’s hits 1.5 million policies, and we have a major hurricane, it could wipe Citizen’s out.

New legislation

This legislative session, State Rep. Nick Diceglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, filed HB 863, which has been referred to as the “Home Hardening” bill.

It was also promoted by Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis.

“Having your home hardened, and a little more information in the hands of your insurance agent, will end up equating to savings,” Patronis told News 6.

News 6 took a close look at the legislation, which passed the Florida House and Senate, and was included in a tax package.

Having your home “hardened” means replacing your windows and doors with impact-resistant windows and doors and impact-resistant garage doors if your house wasn’t built with them.

The legislation allows a two-year period where consumers won’t have to pay sales tax on the items, but there is no mention about savings on homeowner’s insurance.

News 6 asked Diceglie if there is any guarantee from insurers that homeowners will get a break on their property insurance?

“No guarantee,” Diceglie said. “This could add up to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in sales tax relief, which I think would go a long way for a lot of folks,” he said.

But it could also come up to tens of thousands of dollars that consumers have to pay out of pocket on the front end.

“Sure, there’s no question about that,” Diceglie said.

That doesn’t sit well with consumers like Blanchard.

“To put in new windows, to put in doors for my house, I’ve had that estimated before and that was like $30,000,” Blanchard said.

“That’s not a discount. There’s no oversight,” Blanchard said. “You’re hoping the insurance company will do right by the homeowner.”

The home hardening legislation still must be signed by the governor. He is expected to sign it and it could happen any day.

The governor has also said that he is open to having a special legislative session to deal with property insurance reform.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.