MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) – Stories of homeowners receiving notices of non-renewal have circulated since the wine country wildfires in 2017. Now, data confirms that insurance companies are dropping coverage for people across the state and especially in areas affected by the 2015 and 2017 wildfires
“We actually asked the insurers in the state to give us their data, how many people were they non-renewing and that’s what we have for the first time,” explained Michael Soller, the Director of Communications for the California Department of Insurance. “For the year 2017 to 2018 there was a 6 percent overall increase in insurance non-renewals,” and in zip codes affected by the 2015 and 2017 wildfires, the number was 10 percent.
Note that state law prevents insurers from dropping coverage for 1 year after a fire, so we still have not seen the full impact of last year’s fires.
Overall, from 2015 to 2018, 671,332 policies were dropped at the insurance company’s request. In the Bay Area, that number was 94,858.
Contra Costa: 17,773
San Francisco: 5,684
San Mateo: 7,371
Santa Clara: 20,570
Marin wasn’t affected by the recent wildfires, but the City of Mill Valley is almost entirely a high wildfire risk zone.
“I can’t sleep,” says Phyllis Andelin. Losing insurance was, “the one thing I thought wasn’t going to happen to me.” Andelin says her homeowner insurance with Chubb will end next month. For the last forty-five years, she’s lived in the Mill Valley hills in a house that is a historic landmark. She has had Chubb insurance since she bought the house in 1974. She paid about $27,000 thousand dollars to insure her home and another property in Napa last year. “They must be doing pretty well if they can afford to lose me,” she laughs wryly.
According to her broker, the policy will end because she made two sub-$5,000 claims and had a small garage fire that she hasn’t submitted a claim for yet. But she doesn’t fully buy that excuse. “They’ve been saying they don’t want policies in the canyons,” she says. And she’s heard almost no one in Tamalpais is getting renewed. And while many people can get insurance somewhere else (perhaps less coverage and/or higher cost) her home’s unique status as a historic landmark makes it more difficult to find coverage.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” she says. “There’s just not enough time.”
Soller agrees. Once option to help homeowners would be to extend the notice that insurance companies have to give customers that are being dropped. “Right now, its 45 days and that’s just not long enough,” says Soller. Another option is to establish a fire safety standard for homes and require insurance companies to issue policies to homeowners who meet the standard.
Ultimately, uninsurability drives down home prices, which drives down property taxes.
If the trend continues,
“Local governments are going to be unable to afford the services,” warns Soller. “Insurance commissioner Lara described this as the fear of community unraveling and I think that’s what we are trying to head off here.”