Insurance commissioner visits Placer County to address fire insurance nonrenewals

Published Aug. 8, 2019

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara met with Placer County officials Wednesday to discuss efforts to help residents facing fire insurance nonrenewal notices and premium increases. Lara encouraged residents to call the California Department of Insurance’s toll-free hotline for help and intends to send strike teams to areas across California, including Placer County, that are being impacted by insurance nonrenewals. These strike teams will help affected homeowners by connecting them to available resources and assist local government with assessing and responding to insurance issues.

The visit comes in response to a letter sent to thPhotograph of Board of Supervisors Chair Kirk Uhler, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara e commissioner by the Placer County Board of Supervisors on July 9 seeking assistance with the lack of available and affordable fire insurance for residents living in fire-prone areas. Lara came prepared to the meeting with an outline for a comprehensive outreach program that included forming a task force to help define community-wide fire mitigation efforts. 

“We are encouraged by the support Commissioner Lara brought to the table with his willingness to help residents who often are forced to choose between affording fire insurance or house hardening,” said District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson. “We look forward to working with his strike team and are thankful the commissioner responded so sincerely to our call for assistance.”

Lara informed county representatives that his office has seen a 600% increase in complaints regarding fire insurance coverage since 2010 and cited more than 100 carriers increasing their rates since 2017. The Department of Insurance hotline is available to respond to consumer questions and investigate nonrenewals for compliance with laws. Residents are urged to contact 800-927-4357 for assistance with their fire insurance issues.

Insurance carriers are required by law to provide homeowners with a 45-day notice of nonrenewal and a specific reason for declining the coverage. Placer County recently conducted a survey to identify the scope of the fire insurance problem and early results indicate that 86% of all nonrenewals came without a site visit to evaluate pre-fire mitigation measures and determine the actual risk.

In an effort to protect homeowners, Lara told Placer officials he is advocating for new legislation that would require insurance carriers to renew policies of homes that have been hardened against wildfire and are located within a “wildfire mitigated” community. The broader concern for wildfire mitigation efforts on public lands was also a point of discussion.

“We are encouraged by the commissioner’s support of responsible residents who make their homes resistant to fire and create defensible space,” said Board Chair Kirk Uhler. “It’s also important to note that two-thirds of the county is owned by the state and federal governments and we must all better engage in an effort to reduce the risk on government lands adjacent to private landowners.”  

Lara also informed county leaders that he is advocating for an increase to policy limits under the California FAIR Plan and is seeking to require insurers to provide a 180-day notification period prior to cancellation or nonrenewal in addition to the currently-required 45 days. The commissioner said he has already issued notices to insurers to make sure claims are handled fairly and in a timely manner and that he is supportive of expanding the insurance market to allow new insurance providers and business models.

Placer County will notify residents of upcoming strike team meetings and homeowners are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the “Top Ten Tips for Finding Residential Insurance,” a handout from the California Department of Insurance.