Sinkhole Forum Stirs Hope, Ire In Insured

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

Published June 27, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Rochelle Theurer walked out of Spartan Manor on Tuesday evening with a smile on her face.

Under proposed changes to Citizens Property Insurance Corp.'s homeowners insurance coverage, Theurer, of New Port Richey, could be in for significant savings. Like many Pasco County homeowners insured with Citizens, her rates have risen drastically in recent years.

"I was on the verge of losing my home," she said. "I went from paying $1,400 a year to more than $4,000 last year. This being able to opt out of sinkhole [coverage] is a big help."

Theurer was one of about 200 people who attended the three-hour public hearing, led by officials with the state-run insurance company along with state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and state Reps. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, and Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs.

Citizens' plans to limit sinkhole coverage could lead to smaller premium increases this year or next, depending on when homeowners covered by Citizens renew their annual coverage. Any changes to Citizens' sinkhole coverage must be approved by state insurance regulators.

Under the proposed changes, Citizens' policyholders in Pasco and Hernando, the counties most affected by sinkhole claims, will be sent renewal notices without sinkhole coverage, although such coverage could be added.

Although sinkholes could be excluded from a policy, coverage of "catastrophic ground cover collapse," the damage done by a legitimate sinkhole, would still be mandatory for all residential policies issued in Florida under the proposed changes, according to information distributed by Fasano and Legg.

During the hearing, a team of Citizens officials answered questions and offered quote estimates in an adjoining room.

As she left the hearing, Debbie Vosburgh of Holiday, whose Citizens premiums have tripled in the past seven years, said some information provided by Fasano didn't jibe with what Citizens' officials told her in the adjoining room.

"With the sinkhole [coverage], they told me you can only drop it when you renew, but Sen. Fasano said that's not true," she said. "So, I'm getting different information and that was one of my biggest questions."

After speaking with Citizens' representatives, James Vicari of Port Richey seemed skeptical of the potential savings. He displayed paperwork on which a Citizens representative showed him he could save $27 this year under the proposed changes.

"Wow," he wrote next to the figure.