State regulators approve rate hikes for Citizens customers

Posted at 10:53 AM, Sep 18, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- One of Florida's largest property insurers is going to raise its rates again in the coming year.

State regulators late Friday announced that it had approved premium hikes being sought by Citizens Property Insurance. The state-created Citizens has nearly 500,000 customers across the state.

Even though Florida has been relatively hurricane-free for the past decade, Citizens officials contended that it needed to raise its rates to deal with rising claims associated with water losses not associated with storms.

Citizens officials also contend that the insurer is dealing with higher costs because property owners are signing over rights to insurance policy benefits to contractors.

Barry Gilway, president and CEO of Citizens, said in a statement that unless legislators place limits on the ability of homeowners to assign benefits over to contractors "our policyholders can expect these increases for years to come." Contractors, however, have disputed the extent of the problem.

The rate hikes approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation vary by the type of policy purchased and by location.

Homeowners with a comprehensive policy with Citizens will see their rates go up by an average of 6.4 percent next February.

Some customers may see their rates go down. Citizens officials estimate that as many as 100,000 customers may pay less next year.

Citizens customers, however, who live near the coast and purchase just wind coverage will have an average increase of 8.2 percent. Many of these customers live in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Citizens is considered the so-called "insurer of last resort" and covers many homeowners who have been unable to obtain coverage from private insurance companies.