Coverage Concerns: State-run ‘Citizens’ wants customers’ rates raised, stricter policies in 2018

(WSVN) - Higher insurance premiums and stricter policies is a one-two-punch that may hit tens of thousands of South Florida homeowners. 7’s Brian Entin has our special assignment report “Coverage Concerns.”

Sandra and Jim Del Gaizo have been married for almost half-a-century.

Jim Del Gaizo, homeowner: “Since 1968. This will be our 49th wedding anniversary coming up.”

They’ve lived in their Plantation home for most of that time and spend almost $4,000 a year for their Citizens Homeowners Insurance Policy.

Sandra Del Gaizo, homeowner: “Never a claim in all that time.”

That all changed in January.

Sandra Del Gaizo: “You can see that white thing. That is actually the lever.”

A hot water pipe behind this closet burst.

It’s worse than it looks.

Now they have no hot water in their master bathroom.

Sandra Del Gaizo: “Watch out for your feet. I’m not the best driver sometimes.”

Sandra has multiple sclerosis … and no hot water means no therapeutic baths.

Sandra Del Gaizo: “It’s a real inconvenience, obviously for me, especially with MS.”

Citizens denied their insurance claim for the repairs — so they sued.

And they are not alone.

The state-run insurance company says its been inundated with lawsuits.

On average, 738 a month. Almost all of them are from South Florida and many involve leaking or busted pipes and disputes over what’s covered.

The pricey lawsuits are one of the reasons Citizens says it needs to raise customers’ rates.

About 51,000 homeowners in Miami-Dade County could see a rate hike of $359 next year and 23,000 policy holders in Broward are facing a $294 increase.

Sandra Del Gaizo: “Why should they raise rates when apparently, I’m sure I’m not the only one. I feel like there must be many people like me that they must be denying.”

On top of raising rates, Citizens also wants to put a $10,000 limit on water loss repairs unless customers use the company’s approved contractors.

Brian Entin: “Would you trust someone they picked?”

Jim Del Gaizo: “It would be difficult to. I don’t know why we would want to let them pick it.”

The Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters agrees and is fighting the proposals.

Donald Phillips: “The contractor that comes out answers to the insurance company. They are not being hired by the homeowner.”

But the chair of Citizens Board says the changes are critical “…to bring relief to a market that is being made increasingly expensive by unnecessary litigation and out-of-control water loss claims.”

Like so many others, Sandra and Jim are prepared to fight it out in court.

Jim Del Gaizo: “We’ll survive it no matter what, but it’s been very inconvenient.”

Citizens Board of Governors gave the green light for the policy changes and rate hike last month. If state insurance regulators sign off, the changes would take effect in February of next year.


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