COLFAX (CBS13) – Approaching what could be a bad fire season residents in the foothills are finding out they may not have home insurance for long.
Sandra Hatfield retired to Colfax for the mountain scenery – and knowing she moved into a fire zone, she’s continuously clearing brush around her three acres.
“I just try to keep it up as best I can,” said Sandra.
But recently, Sandra received a letter from her insurance company Liberty Mutual that said they will not renew her insurance policy because her property “poses an unacceptable risk for wildfire.”
“I was sick, I was just sick,” said Sandra.
Sandra is now struggling to find an insurer who will cover her home before her current policy runs out.
“It was a fire danger when I bought this and they had no problem,” said Sandra.
We have learned some insurance companies are using new sophisticated mapping systems that incorporate topography and wind patterns to figure out fire risk.
We asked Liberty Mutual why they were not renewing Sandra’s policy and if they were not renewing other policies in high risk fire areas.
Liberty Mutual sent us the following statement, saying:
“Catastrophic wildfires pose a significant risk to our customers and our company. Our primary goal is to ensure that we are there for our customers when they need us the most and can deliver on our promise to handle claims quickly and fairly. Unfortunately, due to California’s wildfire experience in recent years, we have had to take the difficult but necessary step to responsibly manage our overall catastrophe exposure, safeguarding our ability to pay policyholders’ homeowner claims. This is the same approach we use to manage our business throughout the country. As a result, we expect to non-renew about 1 percent of our California property customers this year. These policies are all located in areas with high levels of wildfire exposure and will have met specific physical conditions.”
Nancy Kincaid with the California Department of Insurance says that it’s perfectly legal for a company not to renew your policy and told us that it’s not just Liberty Mutual.
“We are seeing some insurers who are lightening their book of business in certain areas,” said Nancy.
So what can homeowners do if they cannot find an insurance company willing to write a fire policy?
Nancy says there’s a solution.
“If you can’t get it anywhere, than the Fair Plan is where you would go but you’ll need additional policies,’ said Nancy.
There are hundreds of insurance companies in California and all of them must belong to the Fair Plan, which is set up to share profits and losses amongst insurers – though if you choose to go with the Fair Plan, know that they will only issue you policies for fire and vandalism.
Sandra does not like the hassle, but knows it is the price she pays for living with a mountain view. After making dozens of calls, Sandra finally found a new insurer and is now covered though Travelers Insurance.
Relieved to have a new fire policy, Sandra just hopes she never sees flames tearing up the canyon toward her house.
“This is where I want to retire and live out my days,” said Sandra.
We’ve learned that a lot of people like Sandra are retiring up in the foothills because the cost of living is cheaper. But before you buy, Nancy suggests you factor in insurance cost before you make the move.