Monroe gets big break on Citizens policies

Regulators order the state-run insurer to reduce rates in Monroe County, leaving Miami-Dade and Broward with the highest rates in Florida.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

Published  September 30, 2006

Monroe County gets big break on Citizens windstorm policies

The torch has been passed -- residents in coastal Miami-Dade and Broward counties will soon be paying the highest rates for windstorm insurance in Florida.

This distinction has been held by Monroe County, where the majority of the homeowners are covered by Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run insurer of last resort.

But come Jan. 1, Monroe County rates will drop an average of 35 percent based on an order issued by Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation on Friday.

Since February, homeowners in Monroe have rallied to protest Citizens' massive rate hike on top of already sky-high rates. A consumer group, F.I.R.M. (Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe), enlisted city and county officials in its fight and lobbied legislators in Tallahassee.

Under the new rate plan, Monroe residents will pay an average of $13.59 per $1,000 of insured value. Since March 1, Citizens had been charging $20.91 per $1,000.

With Monroe's rate reduction approved, that leaves Miami-Dade homeowners paying as much as $19.15 per $1,000 in coastal areas and Broward homeowners as much as $15.20.

Citizens is South Florida's biggest insurer of homes, condos and apartment buildings. More than half of its 1.2 million policies are in this region.

Citizens, practically the only insurer in the Keys, had filed last December to raise rates there 25.9 percent.

Citizens had also wanted to increase rates on mobile homes by 20.4 percent.

The consent order signed with the insurance department allows Citizens to hike rates on mobile homes only 15.2 percent.

Because of a state law that allows insurers to begin charging a higher rate before it's approved by regulators, Citizens has been using the higher rates since in March in Monroe. Policyholders won't be issued refunds or credits.

Premiums will be lowered as of Jan. 1 for 12 months, said Rocky Scott, a Citizens spokesman in Tallahassee.

''That fact that this order will keep [the lower rates] in place for a year is a huge boon for Monroe County,'' said Tim Volpe, an attorney with Volpe, Bajalia, Wickes, Rogerson & Wachs in Jacksonville who represented Monroe County in a public hearing on the Citizens rates.

Keeping the new lower rates next year will help homeowners in the Keys because Citizens is expected to file for higher rates again in 2007 to meet the requirements set out in the new insurance law enacted in May.

The reduction in Monroe County rates will not affect rates in the rest of the state, said Robert Ricker, Citizens' president. ``I think this settlement is fair for all concerned, and it provides rate relief for Monroe County residents for the coming year.''