Wrong Zones, Higher Rates Put More Floridians at Risk

 

Unlike home or auto insurance, flood insurance is not a necessity. In fact, homeowners in Florida are dropping their policies at an alarming rate.

Director of the state’s division of emergency management, Brian Koon, said, “More than 10 percent of policyholders in Florida have dropped their flood insurance over the last couple of years.” He attributed this change to the high rates.

Lake City resident Chuck Nicholson said the high rates almost kept him from getting the flood insurance he thought he’d never use.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would flood with us being there”

In 2012, Tropical Storm Debby proved Nicholson and many others wrong. Debby caused 105 million dollars of damage, according to FEMA insurance estimates. Much of this flooding occurred dozens of miles inland. The Nicholson family lives 60 miles from the coast.

Chuck is the owner or a restoration services company and saw this damage firsthand. He said most people he dealt with did not have flood insurance.

“We did probably roughly about 115 jobs when Debby came through, and maybe 15 had flood insurance,” said Nicholson.

Chuck was helping others battle flood waters, but he had problems of his own. Within hours of tropical storm Debby lingering over the Gulf, flood waters rose to about 6 feet.

Chuck said a boat was the only way to get inside his home to move valuables, such as his baseball collection, to higher ground.

Flood Insurance couldn’t replace valuable items such as family heirlooms, but it was able to give them money to rebuild their next home. Nicholson and his wife thank a change in their rates. If the price never dropped they would have dropped their policy.

In 2006, when they moved into the home that would eventually flood, they were quoted $3200 per year, but Nicholson said this quote was wrong.

“We actually weren’t in a flood zone, but we found out after we had bought the home that it had flooded back in 2005.”

But he was being quoted as if he lived in a flood zone.

After getting a second opinion, his rate dropped to about $370 dollars per year, a savings of more than $2800 per year. He actually lived in “Zone X”, a no risk flood zone.

 

The City of Gainesville’s Floodplain Administrator, Andy Renshaw,  said some zones may be decades old.

“There are flood zones that have probably been there since 1960s and have not been updated since then, so through the course of several decades we kind of have a mix of different levels of accurate data.”

Renshaw said one major factor contributing to why the data is old is because FEMA relies heavily on citizens to amend the current flood zone maps. Changes must be proposed by homeowners before areas are re-evaluated.

In some cases, such as Nicholson’s, wrong flood zones can lead to wrong insurance quotes.

Nicholson said the incorrect cost almost kept him from keeping the insurance. He believes the cost may be keeping others, such as the people he dealt with during Debby, from getting insurance.

“Honestly the cost and people say FEMA is hard to deal with,” said Nicholson.

Earlier in the spring, legislators began searching for a way to lessen the reliance on the federal program since it is 23 billion dollars in debt.

Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute, Lynne McChristian, said FEMA is in debt because some policyholders are not being charged the correct amount.

“They do not charge the right rate for the risks that they take on so they borrow the money from the us treasury and the pay it back,” said McChristian.

For example, Chuck Nicholson was only paying a dollar per day because he lived in a no risk flood zone, but in actuality the property was prone to flooding.

A bill was proposed to fix the high price for flood insurance and reliance on the federal program. The bill called the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act is sponsored by Florida senators Dennis Ross and Patrick Murphy.  It aims to allow private insurance companies to sell their own policies. The idea is that competition will drive down the rates of insurance policies.

One agency owner says there is no proof yet this will work.

“I haven’t seen it have any effect on the rates. The private companies coming out with rates are basically charging the same as FEMA,” said David Leinecker.

This could be occurring because the same flood map from FEMA is being used to establish a price.

Nicholson said if he didn’t have flood insurance, “We’d be in trouble.”