Citizens Property Insurance roof rule may cost man his home

Sep 30, 2011

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on September 30, 2011:

Citizens insurance roof rule may cost man his home

By Shannon Behnken

Jeff Zilinski says he can’t afford to replace his roof until he gets his income tax return next year. But it may be too late by then.

If he doesn’t have a new roof by Oct. 28, his insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance Corp, says it won’t renew his policy. If that happens, Zilinski’s mortgage company would assign him insurance that could cost triple the amount he pays now.

“I work paycheck to paycheck, like most people I know,” Zilinski said. “I just got out of bankruptcy. I’m not behind on my mortgage, and this company is going to make me lose my home.”

Zilinsky is one of thousands across Florida who have had to pass a roof inspection before getting a policy renewal with Citizens, the state’s insurer of last resort. Anyone with a home 25 years old or older must get an inspection and prove to Citizens that their roof is expected to last at least three more years.

Replacing a roof on a typical home can cost several thousand dollars. In Zilinsky’s case, he got four estimates on his 1,200 square-foot-home, and he said the best price was about $5,000.

The relatively new requirement for the roof inspection has some customers letting their insurance lapse, local insurance agents said. That decision could push Florida’s already high foreclosure rate even higher.

Mike Larson, a real estate analyst with Weiss Research in Jupiter, said he understands why Citizens wants to lower its risk for roof-related claims. But making homeowners replace roofs that are “functional today” will put a burden on the already fragile housing market.

“People who have a loss of income and are already underwater on their mortgages, may just throw up their hands and say they can’t take it anymore,” Larson said. “That’s the last thing our housing market needs.”

Citizens is Florida’s insurer of last resort, meaning many of its policyholders couldn’t get coverage through private insurers. So some customers can’t shop around.

Christine Ashburn, spokeswoman for Citizens, said the company’s three-year lifespan rule is reasonable. The company, she said, wants to make sure it’s not covering homes that are vulnerable to hurricanes because of a weak roof.

She said the company is sending out letters to customers about six months before their policies are set to expire.

But Zilinski said that still wasn’t enough time to come up with $5,000.

His roof, he said, has no visible damage and no leaks. He said he believes replacing the roof could wait until spring, when his income tax return arrives, and maybe even longer.

He said he doesn’t want to lose his home just because he can’t afford a new roof right now.

“They should have given me more time to come up with the money,” Zilinski said. “I just don’t know what to do.”

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