BY CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA
Florida has taken some tough hits when it comes to major storms and bad weather in the past. Thankfully, it has been over 10 years since a major storm has hit the state. However, it is concerning that Florida homeowners are facing the highest home insurance rates in the country and still see continually rising premiums.
Recent evidence suggests a leading cause of these higher rates is litigation surrounding water claims, and bad actors taking advantage of a flawed system that has led to increased premiums and systemic abuse of Floridians. The litigation stems from process called Assignment of Benefits, and it is important to note this process is also the reassignment of the rights of the homeowner.
The system works like this: If a homeowner experiences a leak in the roof in the middle of the night, he or she calls a contractor who has the homeowner sign an Assignment of Benefit. With the homeowner’s signature, the contractor now has full authority to act on behalf of the homeowner, and the contractor is deemed the sole actor responsible for making all decisions, including insurance claims made on behalf of the homeowner.
This means homeowners are opened up to potential fraud at their most vulnerable state: the moment a home emergency occurs. Without their knowledge, the homeowner loses their say in how their home, the biggest investment they will ever have, is repaired.
Under this process, the contractor has the right to sue the insurance company without the consumer ever knowing. When this happens, litigation costs drive up insurance premiums for consumers, but the contractor takes no risk. What is perhaps most concerning is the homeowner loses all ability to speak to insurance company about work being done on their own home.
According to the Consumer Protection Coalition, Assignment of Benefit claims in Florida may have increased by 90,000 percent (and no, that’s not a typo) since 2000. Unfortunately, this statistic is evidence that costs are being driven up and Floridians are unable to buy homes as a result, or worse, losing their homes due to bad actors and special interests taking advantage of a severely flawed system.
The American Dream is to be able to own your own home, achieve financial independence and feel secure. This convoluted practice is interrupting that dream. We must change the flawed system to return the rights to Floridians, get the profiteers out of the way and empower homeowners.
I have urged the Florida Legislature to continue to make every effort to help improve the marketplace by protecting consumers and lowering the financial burden of home ownership. It is vital to put a stop to these increased premiums, because Floridians’ futures are too precious to be taken advantage of.
Carlos Lopez-Cantera is lieutenant governor of Florida. He formerly served in the Legislature and as Miami-Dade property appraiser.