Duval homeowners struggle to keep up with property insurance hikes

More than 820,000 Floridians are now getting home insurance through Citizens, the state’s insurer of last resort.

The company is expected to top one million policies by the end of this year.

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Even in Duval County, the number of residents priced out of the private market and forced to turn to Citizens has doubled in the past year, with more than 8,000 homeowners now holding policies with the state-backed insurer.

William Norris, a Duval County resident, told us his son is an entry-level worker, working two jobs and earning a little over $30,000 a year.

So, when his property insurance jumped 53%, he was left between a rock and a hard place.

“We have to make the decisions of putting food on the table, putting gas in the car and it’s very challenging,” said Norris.

Norris’ son isn’t alone.

“People are opening up their bill and seeing 40 and 70% rate increases,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Brandes has been pushing for insurance reform for years.

In an interview last month, he told us if lawmakers don’t address the situation soon, Florida’s property insurance market could be looking at a total collapse.

“This is like a patient bleeding out on the table,” said Brandes.

He told us when lawmakers return for their special session, they’ll have to figure out how to allow insurers greater access to the hurricane catastrophe fund, and they need to free up Citizens’ insurance to increase rates to stay competitive with the private market.

Most importantly, Brandes said lawmakers need to reduce litigation in the marketplace.

“The insurance industry is getting sued 100,000 times in Florida, and in every other state around the country, it’s less than 1,000 times. This is what’s driving rate increases,” said Brandes.

For Norris and his son, they’ll have to hope whatever changes lawmakers make later this month provide some relief sooner rather than later.

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“We’re going to fight the fight as long as we can, but inevitably the funds aren’t going to be there and we’re going to lose this house,” said Norris.

Unfortunately for Norris, Brandes told us any changes lawmakers make during the special session won’t likely result in immediate rate decreases, but he said the changes will hopefully prevent things from getting worse.

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