Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Help Me Howard: Citizens Inspections
A South Florida woman is blown away by a $3,000 increase in her windstorm insurance coverage. The insurer said her home's not hurricane ready, but she says they're lying. It's why she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Cathia Darlings has spent 30 years in her Liberty City home.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "I love my house, I love my house."
And after you spend five minutes with her, her sense of humor will leave you loving her house.
From the bar with the sign that says 'You look like I need another drink' to the pay phone in her kitchen.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "[It's] for my friends who are cheap who want to use my phone, so I make them pay."
But when we started talking about her problem, she stopped smiling.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "Yes I did. I received a bill from Citizens, telling me that my insurance would increase from $5,536 to $8,237. I nearly had a heart attack."
A few weeks ago, Cathia got the call that so many homeowners are getting: that Citizens was sending out an inspector to make sure her home qualified for a lower rate by having features to withstand a hurricane, like impact-resistant windows, shutters, and straps attaching her roof trusses to the wall.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "And you know, as an unsuspecting citizen, you think, Well, if they're going to send an inspector, wow, that's great, because now I don't have to pay for one. So that's part of the trap they set."
Cathia is upset, because the inspector who checked her house said it did not have straps on her trusses.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "They couldn't have disappeared, because in 2008, they where there. Well unless these clips walk away during the night."
Without the straps, Cathia's house did not qualify for what are called "wind mitigation discounts."
So we went up into Cathia's attic. These sure look like the straps attaching her truss to the walls that have been there for years, that the inspector did not see.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "I think it was intentional. I think this is a game that they're playing, and it's a very costly game to a lot of people, to the city, and probably all over the State of Florida."
Cathia told the inspection company they needed to come back out to do the inspection again. They said she would have to pay for a new inspection or, they said, go up in your Liberty City home and look for the straps yourself.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "And I said, 'Oh well, let me ask you this: Do you ask the women in Miami Beach or Coral Gables to go up to their attic? I'm not doing that.'"
The straps will save Cathia nearly $1,500, but it won't restore the trust she had in the state-run Citizens Insurance.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "No, I'm hurt, I'm hurt and disappointed that the system has allowed Citizens to take over."
And she says with Citizens cranking her bill up to $8,000, her humble home is becoming too expensive for this retired Miami-Dade educator.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "They don't care, Patrick. They don't care, because I'm sure a lot of people are losing homes because of insurance."
Well Howard, Citizens is trying to make sure every home qualifies for the discounts. But what can you do if you disagree with the inspector's findings?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Assuming the inspector made a mistake, complain to Citizens and tell them they are wrong. If they won't re-inspect at their cost, then file a complaint with the Insurance Commissioners Office. Or hire your own inspector and show Citizens the proof they were wrong."
Another inspector was then sent out to check Cathia's house.
A Citizens spokesperson told me this time they found the straps attaching the trusses to the structure.
Cathia's discount was restored, lowering her rates, and she did not have to pay for the re-inspection since they made the mistake. If Cathia had been wrong, she would have had to pay.
A Citizens spokesperson told me, this proves our process works.
Good news for Cathia, but across Florida, insurance rates are still rising, even with the discounts.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "If you fear actions from your homeowners insurance company could make it impossible to afford your home, contact your legislators. They regulate the insurance companies, and they are responsible for finding solutions to the growing insurance crisis."
Cathia got her discount this year, but she fears one day her homeowners insurance may force her out of her home.
Cathia Darling, Inspection Headaches: "Are you looking for workers at WSVN? Maybe I can find a job there."
Patrick Fraser: "She is a pistol. I hope she doesn't take my job. Maybe Howard's. Now we haven't had a hurricane in Florida since 2006, but rates keep soaring. What's the solution? If you know, let us know, because the state leaders sure don't know."
Troubles left you feeling shuttered in? Ready to storm out? Contact us. We will try to insure you get a little help at a price everyone can afford: free.
If you have any concerns with Citizens, contact them at:
If you would like to file a complaint with Florida's insurance consumer advocate, visit:
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: email@example.com (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org