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Few insurance options available for homeowners

Over two dozen residents attended an evening presentation in the Chester Utility District conference room on February 25 to hear Farmer Insurance Agent Bob Rouland from Rouland Insurance Agency in Chester for an update on the crisis that homeowners face due to the ever-increasing cost of fire insurance in Plumas County.

Karen Lichti, head of public information for the Chester fire department, was also present at the meeting to announce her withdrawal from the Chester fire department, but said she would still remain an active member of the Chester Firewise committee.

The Firewise campaign seeks to educate the public on how to “harden” their homes against fires, a topic that will become part of the discussion later in the meeting.

Rouland with the assistance of fellow agent and office manager Sherry Hunt spoke to the public and answered podium questions for about an hour and a half to update attendees on what they could expect regarding insurance rates in the coming months. and, unfortunately, the news was not good.

The increase in homeowners insurance costs, triggered by a substantial recovery in the extent and duration of the fire season due largely to factors such as drier periods together with abundant forest undergrowth and decaying vegetation, threatens to exceeding many people’s budgets – or worse – becoming unattainable as insurance companies completely leave the market or cancel policies en masse in areas deemed too risky to insure, said Rouland.

Finding economic coverage is a problem that affects not only Plumas residents, but throughout the state of California.

“Insurance companies are getting scared,” Rouland told the group. “They no longer want to sign policies” for homes located in wooded or mountainous regions where fires can be the most destructive of their profits.

“I did it [providing insurance services] for 38 years in Chester, and I’ve never experienced anything like it, “with the rapid changes taking place in the industry.

“We have heard that homeowners can always get fire insurance,” he said, “but at what cost?”

Rouland noted that rewards are now based on so-called FireLine scores, which are determined by combining several risk factors relating to a home’s location and its susceptibility to fire.

Insurance companies want to know how protected a property is to reduce the risk of having to meet huge demands.

Every home that is insured is fully inspected to determine its FireLine score, said Rouland, using a list of critical criteria that could influence the risk of losing the home, such as fuel sources such as grass, trees or a thick brush that can feed a fire.

The higher the score the more expensive the prizes are, he said. If a score is rated above a default value, insurance companies can refuse to insure the home.

Both Rouland and Hunter have described how many insurance companies now want to know how well equipped your local fire department is, the number of full-time firefighters available, typical response times and distance from home to the fire station and others. details, as well as whether there are at least two paved roads within 600 feet of the home so that emergency vehicles have access during a conflagration and to demonstrate that you have more than one escape route.

Hunter noted that if you live in less accessible areas such as a dead end street, for example, “then you have to keep the insurance you have now” for as long as possible, because, Rouland jumped in, “The renewals have become astronomical “.

Other considerations include factors such as whether your home is bordering a slope or has a dense forest that surrounds it and the distance of a home from the nearest fire hydrant.

Rouland warned that “Many insurance companies will no longer insure a house with a wooden shingle roof.”

He said there are essentially two building code standards in Plumas County: the building codes of the Plumas County Planning Department that provide citizens with guidance for property development by following the guidelines set out in the county’s master plan. Plumas and building codes that have become mandatory by many insurance companies, including the closing spaces under the eaves where the embers could accumulate below and start combustion and from other open areas such as those found under the covered porches.

The location of trees and the locations of plants and shrubs, in addition to the height of the bushes, are also taken into consideration before a policy can be signed.

“I know it sounds crazy, but there are companies that don’t allow a vase of flowers on your bouquet that is near your home.”

Continuing, Rouland noted that we live in a community where many use firewood to heat their homes, which means that “the stacked firewood must be at least 30 feet from any property structure,” according to the rules established by the insurance sector.

Lichti expressed the belief that, to some extent, insurance companies recognize the value of Firewise strategies and consider such efforts when marking houses for fire safety, including removing dangerous trees or cutting protruding branches, the removing debris at least 30 feet from structures and completely removing flammable materials such as dry leaves and pine needles from your property, among other remedies.

“All couriers hire inspectors and send them” before a renewal is authorized, Hunter said, “and they are sending them with drones,” with cameras that “fly over the roof line and magnify any defect” as they define the term ( without pine needles or clogged gutters). “They are becoming extremely strict” on every home they insure.

“And they have the right to do it whenever they want,” said Rouland. “They don’t have to tell the homeowner when they arrive,” except courtesy he added.

Rouland said he was happy to provide a complete list of ancillary building codes required by insurance companies to customers or anyone interested in knowing if their home is compliant.

Failing to find a first insurance company willing to take out a policy, Hunter said residents could still request California’s expensive FAIR plan as a last resort. But since the plan only covers loss of home and personal property due to fires, Rouland recommended homeowners to also buy an accompanying policy that covers liability and other types of losses, which means even higher costs for the consumer.

Hunter said that even when homeowners can’t find traditional insurance companies, the FAIR plan, made up of all insurers authorized to take out basic California property insurance by pooling resources, is still not guaranteed at all. those who need coverage if they do not meet specific guidelines.

In his view, Rouland said he predicted in the not too distant future that the FAIR plan is the only one available to many residents in mountainous and wooded areas.

He said the mortgage companies will provide the necessary insurance for those who are unable to find any on the market, but only cover the amount of the loan that remains on a house in the event of a catastrophic accident. “Not to mention the rewards are extremely expensive,” adding that no matter who insures you, “also read the fine print to make sure the smoke damage is covered,” since your house could survive a fire, but still be seriously damaged by smoke.

As a side note, Rouland said that there are some unscrupulous insurance companies that temporarily take out domestic policies to accumulate reserves and then cancel policies after only a short period of time. “It should be illegal, but it’s not. I don’t know how they manage.”

Hunt reminded members of the public that the problem of finding economic coverage started after the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history and the most expensive natural disaster in terms of insured losses, wiping out the city. of Paradise in the Butte of Northern California County, killing several dozen people and leading to billions of complaints.

One of the people in the audience spoke to say that, based on his understanding, the state of California is aware of the problem, but is limited to what can be done to improve the problem, “because the state cannot order a company to lose money or force it to provide coverage that it refuses to make available. “

Today, the northern state and in particular our local region are experiencing dry weather once again and the next fire season is technically only a couple of months away.

The month of February produced atypically a lack of snow and rain this year, with the first week of March so far showing little or no humidity in the forecast.

Another season of intense conflagration across the state could mean that homeowners will remain at the mercy of fire insurance this year and beyond.

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