California expands insurance protections in wildfire areas
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — More than a million California homes are now protected under a new law that temporarily bans insurance companies from dropping customers in areas affected by recent wildfires, officials announced Wednesday.
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara issued a moratorium earlier this month covering about 800,000 homes affected by recent wildfires. Lara extended those protections this week to more than 200,000 additional homes in burn areas in San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Solana and Contra Costa counties.
The moratorium lasts for a year, and it only covers people who live either inside or next to the perimeter of one of 16 wildfires that burned in California in October.
Thousands of homes have been destroyed in recent years by devastating wildfires across the state. Those claims have cost insurers, who responded by dropping fire insurance policies for many homeowners who live in wildfire-prone areas.
The insurance industry has said annual losses from wildfires are not sustainable.
In California, people who can't buy home insurance through no fault of their own can purchase plans from a state-mandated insurance pool. But policies sold through the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan are often limited to fire damage, forcing people to purchase separate plans to get coverage for things other than fires.
Last month, Lara ordered the FAIR Plan to begin selling comprehensive policies by June 1 to cover lots of other problems, including theft, water damage, falling objects and liability. He also ordered the plan to double homeowners’ coverage limits to $3 million.
Last week, the California FAIR Plan Association sued Lara, arguing his order is illegal. It said state law only requires the plan to sell basic property insurance. It argued Lara's order would hurt the private insurance market, which conflicts with the FAIR Plan's state-mandated goals of encouraging “maximum use” of the “normal insurance market.”
Known as the “insurer of last resort,” the FAIR Plan has been growing in recent years as wildfires have become bigger and more frequent because of climate change.