If your home insurance company notifies you that they are dropping or non-renewing your policy when its current term expires, start shopping around for replacement coverage ASAP to avoid a gap in protection. If you want to try to convince them not to drop you, we offer guidance below.
In most parts of the state, there are insurance companies competing for your business. If you live in an area that insurance companies consider high risk, your options for insuring your home will be limited. The California Department of Insurance website makes it easy to compare policies sold by different insurance companies. You can contact an insurance broker or independent agent who has access to multiple companies, and/or you can contact an agent that sells for only one insurance company. If all else fails, an agent can place you with the California FAIR Plan and guide you on supplementing its limited coverage.
In addition to finding replacement coverage, you can seek help by contacting the California Department of Insurance ("CDI") at 1-800-927-HELP (4357) or online at www.insurance.ca.gov There you can file a complaint with the CDI and they will investigate whether the non-renewal was valid and possibly get it reversed.
In California, insurance companies are free to non-renew you as long as they give you written notice of non-renewal at least 45 days prior to the date your old policy will expire, and as long as they are following their own guidelines and not discriminating against you as an individual. Their guidelines must be objective, have a substantial relationship to the risk of loss, and be applied consistently among insureds in the particular group being non-renewed. The 45 day notice must contain the reason or reasons for the nonrenewal, the telephone number of the insurer's representatives that handle consumer inquiries or complaints, and a statement that you (the policyholder) can have the insurer's nonrenewal decision reviewed by the CDI.
The CDI has been successful in getting reversals in certain fact situations, which usually fall into a few categories:
1. Dropped after a total loss from a declared disaster: In this case, CIC Section 675.1 protects the insured's first renewal at the policy expiration after the loss. In the few cases the CDI has seen, they have been successful in getting dropped policies renewed. However, the statute only protects for one renewal. The CDI cannot protect the subsequent non-renewal, except as provided below.
2. Dropped after partial loss, no loss, or second renewal (after the 675.1 was triggered): Any case, except those that fall under CIC Section 675.1, is subject to the insurer's own renewal guidelines. In these cases, the CDI makes sure the insurer has renewal guidelines in place, that these guidelines are in line with any applicable laws, and that they are applied consistently. As long as that is the case, the CDI has very little authority to prohibit insurers for non-renewing a policy. These non-renewals could be for poor condition of the property, lack of defensible space, or other risk factors.
3. Dropped for not having “defensible space”: There is no statute or law prohibiting an insurer from non-renewing a policy based upon the property owners’ failure to clear brush so as to meet a specific defensible space requirement. Insurers can decide the amount of clearance they require. The 100 foot clearance statute (PUBLIC RESOURCES CODE SECTION 4291), contains a specific caveat that insurers can require more than 100 feet. Insurers lobbied for this carve-out. The CDI cannot dictate whether that clearance should be 100 feet or 1000 feet. Some insurers do require a 1000-2000 foot clearance. The CDI’s current authority is limited to making sure that the clearance requirement is contained in the insurers' Eligibility or Renewal Guidelines and that it is applied consistently. If you have cleared brush and made your home more fire-safe, your local Fire Chief may be willing to contact your insurer and advocate on your behalf.
If you do not succeed in getting your current insurer to reinstate/renew your coverage, use our buying tips to find a financially healthy company that may be cheaper, even better, than your current company. An independent insurance broker will be also be able to help you find replacement coverage.
If you cannot find any company to insure you, the California Fair Plan is an option. You can contact the California FAIR Plan at (800) 339-4099. The FAIR Plan was created by the Legislature to make property insurance more readily available to people who have difficulty obtaining it from private insurers because their property is considered "high risk." Please note that the FAIR Plan provides only basic fire protection. If you purchase a FAIR Plan policy, you may also want to consider purchasing supplemental insurance known as "Difference in Conditions" (DIC) coverage. DIC policies are designed to provide coverages such as liability, theft and Additional Living Expenses, which are not covered by the FAIR Plan policy.
Please notify United Policyholders if you have trouble finding affordable coverage for your property by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 415-393-9990
For more information read: Creating 100 Feet of Defensible Space around Your Home and visit the CDI website for regular bulletins.