Fire Insurance in the hills

After several years of wildfires, California homeowners in areas along the urban/wildland interface have seen increases in rates and cancellations of policies. In 2019, a one year moratorium on cancellations was enacted by the State Insurance Commissioner. However we are now past the timeframe and have concerns about how insurers will behave in our area. KPOA hosted the Ricardo Lara, the State Insurance Commissioner at our annual meeting in September 2020, but at that time no new agreements had been reached with insurers. If your policy has been cancelled call the State Insurance Commission (800) 927-4357 to file a complaint and seek assistance.

Ricardo Lara, the California State Insurance Commissioner, spoke at the KPOA annual meeting in September 2020 to discuss homeowner fire insurance. After several years of catastrophic wildfires, the state has received a sixty percent increase in homeowner complaints about non-renewals of fire insurance policies. In December 2019, Lara issued a one-year moratorium on policy cancellations for homes in specific zip codes that were near or adjacent to wild fires. Surprisingly, Kensington’s zip code 94708 was identified as being adjacent to the Skye Fire that occurred October 27, 2019 near Crockett. So some of us were included in the moratorium. Lara stated that the insurance industry looks at satellite imagery of a region to evaluate fuel load and access to determine risk factors. These risk factor scores are not available to the Department of Insurance, but Lara’s office is trying to get access to the models that are being used by the industry. Eventually this might allow homeowners to appeal the risk factor scores.

The Department of Insurance is looking to develop statewide standards for fire resistant structures and mitigations to factor into the scores developed by the insurance industry. Ideally Lara wants to institute a statewide home hardening certification for homeowners. Hardening measures are specific physical improvements to a home such as asphalt roofing. The department would require the industry to provide coverage to those who meet the certification. He noted, for example, that Boulder, Colorado has a certification process in which the local fire department evaluates the home and makes the determination. Last year—AB 2367—to begin this process died in committee.

To design standards for the many different communities and housing types will take a long while, so it won’t be ready before our next fire season. We can assume there may be questions about whether certain homes in Kensington, with short distances between structures, will be able to meet the standards.

It would make sense that State funds be set aside for fire prevention in areas most vulnerable to wildfire activity while the state has a budget surplus. We need to work with our state legislature to include Kensington and El Cerrito as areas needing these funds.

In the meantime, if you’ve recently had your insurance cancelled, contact the State Insurance Commissioner at (800) 927-4357 for assistance.