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Insurance Advocacy On The Rise For Wildfire Survivors, High Risk Area Residents

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Sonora, CA – Realtors in the Mother Lode and statewide are backing efforts by state insurance officials towards getting insurers to provide more wildfire-related support.

Tuolumne Association of Realtors (TCAR) is highlighting moves this week by State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara Commissioner Lara, who is requesting insurance companies to provide survivors affected by wildfires greater flexibility with deadlines and documentation typically required to pay claims. California Association of Realtors (CAR) officials are also amplifying their support.

Among what he is asking is that insurers provide a minimum four-month advance payment of loss of use, fair rental value or additional living expenses; a minimum 60-day billing grace period to allow for lost or destroyed renewal notices; advance payment of at least 25 percent of policy limits for personal property — without the completion of an inventory.

Lara also wants insurance companies to accept any inventory form that contains substantially the same information as a company-specific form as well as a customer inventory that includes groupings of personal property, such as clothing, shoes, books, or food items rather than listing individual items.

He is additionally seeking insurers to expedite payment of vehicle damage claims covered under comprehensive loss coverage and to cooperate with consolidated debris removal efforts coordinated through the city, county, and state agencies unless the insurer can provide more rapid debris removal outside of those efforts.

These efforts relating to wildfire survivors are going on in tandem with those of Governor Gavin Newsom, who today issued an executive order specifically to help streamline recovery efforts in communities across the state impacted by last month’s devastating fires. Among other provisions, the executive order is intended to help displaced residents with housing needs by facilitating manufactured homes and mobile home parks and waiving fees to replace documents such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates for those affected by the fires.

A More Reasonable ‘FAIR Plan’ Alternative

As reported here, last week Lara mandated state insurers who are part of the FAIR Plan to better serve high wildfire risk area homeowners as increasing numbers are being turned away for insurance coverage.

The commissioner ordered FAIR Plan insurance providers to offer a comprehensive homeowner insurance policy in addition to the current dwelling fire-only coverage by June 1, 2020.

Established under state law as the homeowners’ “insurer of last resort,” FAIR Plan currently offers only fire insurance, requiring consumers to purchase additional policies in order to be covered for other potential impacts such as liability, water damage, and theft.

Lara also mandated doubling coverage limits from $1.5 million to $3 million, a no-fee monthly payment plan, and the ability for policyholders to pay by credit card or electronic funds transfer without any fees.

TCAR President Judy Austin says she is pleased about the developments. TCAR’s advocacy work to get Lara’s and other state officials’ attention has been underway since spring and played a role in the commissioner setting up a strike force to set up a wave of town hall meetings in high wildfire risk areas.

“He listened and we are pleased! I am so happy this is something we as a community, had a contribution to,” Austin happily comments. “By collecting the stories from Tuolumne County and giving Lara the results from our Tuolumne County Homeowners/Fire Insurance Survey, we made a difference — and he realized there was more than two percent in this State of California who are affected.”