Wind insurance in The Keys: Some things are flat out unfair

Drop this question into any Key West conversation and watch the blood pressure meters soar: What are you paying for wind insurance?

Monroe County property owners pay up to four times as much for wind insurance than the rest of Florida. A homeowner in Key West foots an annual bill that on average runs almost $5,300. In Miami? About $2,400. Up state the bill’s closer to $1,600.

Insure a condo and one can see rates top $13,000 in Monroe County, while the rest of the state might get as high as $5,200.

Oh, sure, you say, the Keys pay more because they’re more likely to get blown away in the next hurricane. Except there’s not a shred of truth to that.

Between 1995 and 2011, Monroe County property owners paid premiums that exceeded claims by $322 million. Monroe County for decades has had the most stringent building codes in the state. In short, Monroe County gets the highest bills for the fewest claims.

That’s wildly wrong and flat out unfair. And, it can be fixed — if property owners open their homes when Solaria Designs of Marathon comes knocking.

A house-by-house analysis is in the field now. The Wind Insurance Cost Reduction Study randomly selected and contacted by mail 704 homeowners throughout the Keys to participate in an in-depth mitigation audit.

Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM), an exceptionally powerful grassroots organization, is the study’s sponsor.  Heather Carruthers, a Monroe County commissioner and board president of FIRM, is making a personal appeal to Keys homeowners.

“If we don’t get a handle on the cost of property insurance here,” she said, “we will see another real estate recession and the collapse of our local economy as our workforce leaves the Keys for someplace more affordable.”

FIRM believes — and, indeed, has secured industry support — that with statistically valid information wind insurance rates in Monroe County will come down.

“We know we’re paying an unfair share,” Carruthers said at a recent Lower Keys League of Women Voters forum. “Now, we have an opportunity to prove our mitigation efforts, building codes and actual claims rates support lowering rates in the Keys.”

Carruthers is encouraging the 704 homeowners to open their doors to Solaria Designs, which is conducting the study. Architects and engineers will inspect roofs, roof-to-wall straps, shutters, nearby trees, proximity to the water and height above flood level. The inspection is similar to, though more detailed, that a routine wind insurance mitigation report.

All information collected is confidential and no property is individually identifiable. Once the data is collected and analyzed, the resulting report will help FIRM determine what the real rates should be for Monroe County.

If you’re not among the 704 selected property owners, you can participate in the study by completing FIRM’s online version. There’s a detailed Q&A on FIRM’s website.

FIRM has been successful in convincing wind insurance decision makers — specifically Citizens, the state-run, default insurance provider — that Monroe County rates need to be reviewed. Armed with actuarial data from the field study, FIRM can prove its points.

First, though, the 704 property owners need to say “yes” when the inspectors contact them.

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