Triple insurance rates on the way … maybe

Now, I realize I’ve complained long and hard about chopping down so many trees and spending money for outside stuff rather than inside improvements. But now I know why … if I hadn’t, my insurance rates would triple.

In late December 2012 I talked to my insurance agent about putting insurance on my recently returned Jeep Wrangler. She was my ex-husband’s agent since 1978 and since my divorce in 2000 I’ve been in a business relationship with her that lasted longer than my marriage so I figure when she has something to say, I listen!

Everyone knows this area (Zone 216 on the wildfire map) is susceptible to high-wildfire danger and her insurance company has borne the burden of hundreds of burned homes and property from both the Lower North Fork Fire and the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, let alone all claims over these tinder-dry and hurricane-soaked United States. In an effort to cut down on insurance claims and to make sure mountain-dwellers are taking care of their property, ALL insurance companies are now personally inspecting their customer’s properties to ensure their land is properly mitigated and as safe as possible from wildfire.

This is quite a step for insurance companies to take and Am-Fam isn’t the only one to insist their customers clear their property of crowded trees, slash and who knows what else. This type of action is unsettling if you don’t know it’s coming; a week’s notice is all you’ll receive and if you don’t allow the inspectors on your property or fail to adhere to their recommendations, your homeowner’s insurance (and probably every other type of insurance you may have) will, not could, triple. For me that would mean premiums of $3,000 a year.

Triple insurance rates is a pretty strong argument to clean things up but for those who will resist any sort of regulation or “interference” from outside authority will soon find they have more trouble on their hands if they decide they’ve had enough of mountain living and decide to leave their mess behind. I was told that pending legislation would make it impossible to sell an unmitigated property until its mitigated and made safer (NOT safe, there’s no way to be 100 percent safe from fire). Sounds like anarchy, but I imagine the driving force behind this legislation are the major insurance companies that are bleeding money with all the disasters 2012 had to offer.

I wonder about those who can’t afford the pricey-ness of mitigation. It ain’t cheap! Could people lose their homes over these mandates? Maybe.

In March 2012 our mountain neighbors to the south endured the Lower North Fork Fire ignited by an out-of-control burn by the USFS on a high-wind warning day. Twenty-two homes were destroyed and three people lost their lives to flames driven by 60-mph winds. In the last few days the commission appointed to review the fire and possibly assign blame released their report and general findings and recommendations. Here’s a link to the story and subsequent link to the actual report:

Insurance rates rising

I have worked with many of the people on the commission; I interviewed them for stories when I was a reporter with EN and I know them to be hardworking and reliable. If they say they couldn’t offer a more complete report due to insufficient funds, I lean toward believing them. As a homeowner in Zone 216, and as a reporter and photojournalist who was taken through the destruction and saw first hand what happened to that area, the only response I have is anger.

If and when you can get past the excuses and lack of blame assignment, there are some interesting proposals in the report. One would create a tax break for those who mitigate their properties where homeowners can claim up to a $2,500 tax break. That amount won’t even pay for a handful of trees and either chipping or hauling them away but at least it’s a start.

Other proposals include increased funding for local all-volunteer fire departments and most aggressive land management procedures. Without laying the blame at the feet of the USFS both individual homeowners and insurance companies have reduced chances for compensation for something that was not their fault.

When I toured the LNF area I did see some homes choked with downed trees and crowded forests. I also saw homes that were in the middle of meadows and all that was left was a few charred pieces of metal, foundations and the skeletons of cars. No amount of mitigation could have stopped that fire from taking those homes just as if God or karma had willed such a catastrophe to happen. It makes me wonder.

Since not being a reporter is like trying not to breathe, I called the new reporter at EN and shared my story with her. She had told me she’d heard rumors about these property reviews but had run into a wall when she asks insurance companies to admit to this new policy. What they are afraid of I don’t know but it would seem wise to let homeowners get a chance on laying out their mitigation strategy now, during the winter months, when the spring thaw is only four months away. Not much can be done with the six pitiful inches of snow currently on the ground.

At least I’ve done my part to push back the trees and create a better perimeter around the house. Now I don’t miss those trees from the back yard but the neighbor’s unmitigated and spindly trees to the south block the sun though it has begun its climb northward once again. I told my insurance agent that and she told me not to worry. Any insurance company would require them to make changes that would benefit them and me.

With new insurance regulations and practices in place, I can only hope the neighbor has American Family Insurance, too.

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