California homeowners facing rate increases

The Associated Press
Saturday September 07, 2002

SANTA ROSA — As the insurance industry tries to offset rising costs and poor investment returns, leading providers are raising rates and denying renewals to people who’ve filed claims. 

Insurance companies are raising rates for California homeowners by 20 percent this year and next year rates could go up even more, The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported Friday. 

“Virtually every major carrier has asked for some sort of increase,” said Nanci Kramer, deputy press secretary for the California Department of Insurance, told the newspaper. “It’s a very hard market for homeowners.” 

In addition to raising rates, many insurance providers are refusing to renew policies for consumers who have filed more than one claim in a three- to five-year period, Kramer said. 

“Most consumers have no idea what a claim can do to them,” Kramer said. 

The rate increases and stricter renewal standards are stunning consumers and have started an onslaught of complaints to state regulators in California and nationwide. 

There are multiple reasons for soaring rates and tightening underwriting standards, according to Robert Hartwig, chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute, a New York insurance industry research firm. 

The industry has been hit by multimillion-dollar claims for catastrophic events and the cost of home construction and repairs has increased, Hartwig told the newspaper. 

Also, U.S. housing stock is getting older and claims for mold damage cost insurers more than $1 billion last year. Ultimately, carriers had to pay more in claims and claim expenses than they made in premiums. 

Insurers had been able to cover the shortfall with good investment returns, but the current economic downturn has made it harder for companies to make up the difference.