Insurer’s rule for roofs raises fraud fears

Oct 18, 2011

The following article was published in The Tampa Tribune on October 18, 2011:

Insurer’s rule for roofs raises fraud fears 

By Shannon Behnken

Roofer Mark Gelling was saddened when he heard about a Pasco family on the verge of losing their home because of a worn out roof.

But empathy turned into anger when he saw detailed photos of the roof, which seemed to be in fine shape. So he decided to do something about it.

“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I went to church on Sunday, and I came home and told the wife, ‘I’m going to run by there.’ And I drove by and looked and said, ‘He definitely doesn’t need a roof.’ “

After inspecting it himself, he said Jeff Zilinski’s roof will last about five more years.

This is after four other contractors Zilinski hired to inspect his roof and sign off on a required insurance form all said his roof needed to be replaced immediately.

They wouldn’t sign the form, and that nearly forced Zilinski, who has never missed a mortgage payment, into foreclosure.

“At this point I just don’t have the assets to get a new roof,” Zilinski said.

Without the form, Citizens Insurance said it would drop Zilinski’s coverage October 28. He didn’t have the $5,000 needed to replace the roof. And because he has a mortgage, the lender would have assigned him a policy — likely at triple the cost.

That would have pushed his mortgage payment beyond what he could afford, and Zilinski said he likely would have lost the home to foreclosure. He asked Citizens for more time to save money for a new roof, but that request was denied.

The Tampa Tribune and News Channel 8 ran stories on Zilinski’s dilemma in September.

Gelling happened to see both. He routinely inspects roofs for insurance companies.

Zilinski is one of thousands across Florida whose homes must pass a roof inspection before they can get a policy renewed with Citizens, the state’s insurer of last resort. Any home 25 or more years old is subject to the inspection, which verifies the roof is expected to last at least three years.

Many have gotten inspection reports signed with no problems. But Zilinski’s case raises the question: Are consumers at a disadvantage by relying on roofers who have something to gain by recommending a new roof?

Gelling thinks so. He said roofing business is down, and he fears some roofers see easy money in Citizens’ requirement.

“I hope that what has happened here will influence other roofers to be honest and professional when they do these inspections,” Gelling said. “I know everyone needs work, but if you’re honest, the homeowner will remember you when it’s really time to put a roof on.”

Homeowners need to be careful who they hire to inspect their roof, said Keith Swope, president of Tampa Roofing Co. and a past president of a state trade organization for roofers.

“People could definitely get taken advantage of,” Swope said.

Citizens has said homeowners tend to wait too long to repair or replace their roofs and it wants to avoid insuring homes with vulnerable roofs.

But the relatively new requirement for the roof inspection isn’t only a burden for homeowners, Swope said. Roofers are put in a bad spot, too, he said, adding that he doesn’t like to do insurance inspections because it could cause him legal problems.

“Saying the roof has at least three years left is an opinion,” he said. “What if the homeowner sells their home and gives the new owner your letter and then something happens to the roof? I don’t like to guarantee someone else’s work.”

Meanwhile, for Zilinski, the positive inspection report means he has time to save up for a new roof.

“I needed someone to hear about my situation,” he said. “Good Samaritans come out when you need them the most.”

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