State Insurance Commissioner offers ‘top 10 tips for finding residential insurance’

Ricardo Lara is California’s 8th Insurance Commissioner since voters created the elected position in 1988. As leader of the nation’s largest state consumer protection agency, he will protect Californians’ futures. Raised in East Los Angeles by immigrant parents, Commissioner Ricardo Lara made history in 2018 by becoming the first openly gay person elected to statewide office in California’s history. Lara previously served in the California legislature, representing Assembly District 50 from 2010 to 2012 and Senate District 33 from 2012 to 2018. Lara earned a BA in journalism and Spanish with a minor in Chicano Studies from San Diego State University.

Fire insurance is getting more difficult if not impossible to obtain from private insurance companies here in Lassen County. Many property owners have been forced to seek fire insurance through the California FAIR Plan, created more than 50 years ago “to provide insurance options for Californians, the FAIR Plan’s mission is to protect consumers,” according to the California Department of Insurance’s website. “The Department of Insurance, led by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, exercises oversight under California law to make sure the FAIR Plan addresses the changing needs of Californians.

‘I am using my oversight to make sure all Californians have options for coverage that meet their needs. While the FAIR Plan has a long history of protecting consumers it must continue to respond to climate change and future threats,” Lara said. “While created by the governor and legislature, the FAIR Plan is a private association whose day-to-day operations are controlled by insurance companies, not taxpayers. The FAIR Plan is available to California residents and businesses in urban and rural areas who cannot obtain insurance through a regular insurance company. As of 2020, the FAIR Plan covers less than 3 percent of residents, meaning more than 97 percent of Californians have a competitive option for insurance.”

On its website, the California Department of Insurance offers these tips to homeowners. Here they are.

“We are aware there has been an increase in nonrenewals and understand that residential insurance is getting harder to find in any area that insurers identify as having a higher than average risk of wildfire,” according to the website. “While the Department of Insurance doesn’t have the legal authority to tell insurers what level of risk they must write or where they must write insurance, we can monitor that they are consistent in their decisions and that their decisions are based on considerations of risk, not other biases.

“We are here to help you and have a number of tips to help you through this process.

“1. If you get a nonrenewal notice, contact your insurer and ask if there are any specific actions you could take to mitigate your risk and retain your coverage.

“2. If you think your nonrenewal was unfair, you may file a complaint with us.

“3. Don’t let these actions delay starting your search for a new insurer. Make sure you have done everything you can do at your property to mitigate fire risk then start shopping for coverage.

“4. In addition to contacting local agents or brokers in the vicinity of your home, you may wish to use our Residential Insurance Company Contact List that provides toll free numbers for more than 50 insurers that are licensed to sell homeowners insurance.  You can contact each of them to find the closest agent or broker or, in some cases, get a quote from them directly.

“5. If you need help from an agent that speaks a specific language, you can use our Find an Agent or Broker tool to find one near you.

“6. You can also utilize our Homeowner Premium Comparison Tool and Homeowner Coverage Comparison Tool to compare premiums and coverages.

“7. If your agent cannot help you find coverage with an insurer other than the FAIR Plan, you or your agent should contact other agents and brokers who represent other insurers. Our Home Insurance Finder tool can help you find other agents in your region or beyond and tells you which insurers they represent.

“8. Understand that the California FAIR Plan is available to every homeowner as a last option for coverage. The maximum limit written by the FAIR Plan on a residential property for all coverages combined is $3 million. Because the coverage provided by a FAIR Plan policy is very limited, it is recommended that you supplement the FAIR Plan policy with a Difference in Conditions policy.

“9. If none of these options work for you, you may try obtaining coverage in the “surplus lines” market. Ask your agent or broker if they are able to obtain coverage with a surplus lines insurer or obtain coverage through a surplus lines broker (note, surplus lines insurers are not backed by the California Insurance Guarantee Association).

“10. If you prefer to speak live with our staff, you are always welcome to call the Department of Insurance toll free at (800) 927-4357.”