Property insurance fix: It won’t be about lowering rates

Expert: ‘The best you can do is stop them from going up more’

By: - May 20, 2022 5:25 pm

Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 amid widespread insurance cancellations in Florida. Here, Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida in 2019. Credit: Pierre Markuse via Flickr

Lawmakers, consumers and business interests should manage their expectations next week as the Florida Legislature convenes in special session to address the state’s property-insurance crisis.

Foremost for consumers, according to two experts: Soaring property-insurance rates will not decline.

“Anyone suggesting otherwise is creating a false sense of security and hope,” said Fred Karlinsky, co-chair of the Insurance Regulatory and Transactions Practice Group at the international law firm Greenberg Traurig. He also serves on the Florida Insurance Council.

Karlinsky said Friday that lawmakers’ primary job next week is to keep Florida’s insurance industry afloat under the pressure of surging weather-related losses, high costs of construction materials and labor, and inflated payouts due to litigation — not to provide rate relief.

“One of the things I don’t want to do for anyone – for the Joe Lunchbucket, for the member of the Legislature, for the insurers, for the governor – is I don’t want anyone to walk away from this thinking, yeah, this is great, we put these words on a page, rates are going to go down,” he said.

“Rates were going up and the best you can do is stop them from going up more.”

Tens of thousands of Florida homeowners have recently lost their coverage, much of it being picked up by the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., established as an insurer of last resort. Enrollment in Citizens has more than doubled in 18 months, its executive director said this week. If that kind of growth continues, Karlinsky said, it will trigger automatic and “significant” special assessments on all insurance policies – amounting to yet another kind of rate increase for policyholders.

TaxWatch Executive Vice President Tony Carvajal said next week will be “difficult.”

“The good thing is we have systems to address this. The bad thing is we’re doing it in not only a political environment that exacerbates some conversations, but we’re also doing it in a public environment, where everybody who owns a home thinks about this and has an opinion,” Carvajal said.

“Next week will be a very difficult week, because it’s only one week, and this is months upon years of pressures that built up,” he continued. “But in terms of importance: Folks’ largest asset is usually their homes. Their continuing pressure, other than can I feed myself this evening, is where am I going to sleep, and that means that almost every Floridian is impacted by this. … It’s so central to our lives.”

Hurricane season in Florida starts June 1. Hurricane experts at Colorado State University predict above-average activity this season, with 19 named storms (the average is 14), nine hurricanes (average is seven) and four major hurricanes (average is three). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will announce its forecast next Tuesday, as lawmakers meet in the special session.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.