Citizens Insurance ramping up home inspections following policy boom

Florida’s largest insurer is upping its home inspection game, but some are questioning its gameplay. 

Citizens Property Insurance, the state-owned insurer, inspected 2,200 in 2019, WLRN reported. Four years later, it will have ordered an estimated 300,000 home inspections by the end of 2023.

Citizens was established as a last-resort insurer for Floridians. Today, it has nearly 1.4 million policies and 18 percent of the market, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The number of policies it holds has more than doubled since 2019, according to the publication. Earlier this year, it announced double-digit rate hikes for its customers.

In 2021, the Citizens board approved a four-year program to increase the number of home inspections it completes, with the goal of cutting policies. It received a budget of $43.6 million, the outlet reported. Board members said the cost was worth reducing the company’s market share.

The inspections Citizens has ordered, however, are completed by unlicensed contractors.

“Field inspectors are not licensed but all decisions are made by licensed inspectors and then reviewed by Citizens’ underwriters,” Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier wrote in an email to the outlet. 

The use of unlicensed inspectors is alarming, according to Insurance Information Institute Director of Communications Mark Friedlander.

“From an industry-wide perspective, property insurers typically use licensed inspectors that are well-trained and provide very objective analysis of conditions of homes. If companies are not following that standard, that is very troubling to us, and I could understand why some homeowners are reporting that there’s major errors taking place,” he told the outlet. 

Other insurance companies across the state are also ramping up home inspections, but licensed inspectors are the industry standard, according to Friedlander. Citizens, while not breaking the law, is not following industry best practices, he told the publication. 

Melissa Marro, a resident of Palm Harbors in the Tampa Bay area, moved her insurance policy to Citizens after her private insurance costs skyrocketed, a common experience for Floridians these days. Private insurers have been exiting the state in recent years, bowing out of the market in the face of increasing costs and the growing threat of climate change. The remaining firms have hiked their rates. So for homeowners like Marro, who can no longer afford private insurance, Citizens is the only option.

Marro had to fight an unlicensed inspector’s inaccurate report to keep her home. Internal Citizens data obtained by WLRN shows that 62 inspections between January and September of this year received vendor error complaints. More than 200,000 home inspections were completed in that time. 

“I would have lost my house if I lost this coverage,” she told the outlet.

Kate Hinsche

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