Jimmy Patronis, other officials urge patience as property insurance rates continue to rise

‘We tell them we’ve done these reforms, we start to get into the weeds — they don’t want to hear that because their premiums are still increasing.’

Florida’s homeowner insurance crisis is turning a corner with “light at the end of the tunnel” and “good news” as a slate of new companies come into the market and put downward pressure on rates. But homeowners, still facing price hikes, aren’t seeing it yet.

That was the message from most officials at an insurance panel convened by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. He and other lawmakers and regulators touted changes enacted by the Legislature to reduce lawsuits as having the intended effect.

Reinsurance costs, a key component of costly rate hikes in recent years, are expected to stay flat. Lawsuits have dropped significantly. Outside carriers are more interested in the Florida market. At least two companies, Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky said, have filed for statewide average rate decreases.

“This downward trend is a good thing, it’s showing that we’re trying to turn the corner where it’ll ultimately help create stabilization in the market,” Patronis said.

Patronis also emphasized that other states are suffering from large rate hikes, a result of inflation and more damaging natural disasters. Nationwide, rates climbed 21% last year and there were high profile instances of carriers pulling back from a state, such as when State Farm said earlier this month it wouldn’t renew 30,000 homeowners policies in California

In contrast, Florida’s underlying data means it’s already turning a corner on large spikes in rates, Patronis said.

But those positive indicators belie the rate hikes most homeowners continue to experience. For example, Castle Key, an Allstate subsidiary, asked the Office of Insurance Regulation for a 53.5% statewide average rate hike on its condo policies in February, which regulators are still considering.

Rates shot up significantly in the last three years as seven companies went bankrupt in an 18-month span. Lawmakers acted in December 2022 to eliminate assignment of benefits contracts and one-way attorneys fees, which insurers said created an incentive to file frivolous lawsuits over dubious property damage claims.

Those changes need time to play out in the marketplace, lawmakers on the panel said, even if homeowners aren’t experiencing rate relief.

“We want to make sure this thing gets fixed but the worst thing we can do is enact all of this quality legislation and not give it the time, that 12 to 18 months to bake in,” said Sen. Jay Collins, a Tampa Republican. “Many of us have been preaching strategy and patience.”

Sen. Nick DiCeglie, an Indian Rocks Beach Republican, echoed those comments but also acknowledged that constituents may not understand or be interested in the nuances and history of Florida’s property insurance market.

“We tell them we’ve done these reforms, we start to get into the weeds — they don’t want to hear that because their premiums are still increasing in a way that is being incredibly negative on their financial situation especially our seniors who are on fixed incomes,” DiCeglie said. “Many times they don’t know that we’ve done anything. Sometimes they act like we haven’t done anything.”

Despite the panel’s assurances, the council of patience could wear thin on residents being priced out of their homes.

Cassie Brewer, who bought her Yacht Club Estates home in St. Petersburg five years ago with her husband, a retired Air Force colonel, said her insurance, including flood coverage, was now at $14,000 per year. She told the panel that the property insurance crisis wasn’t their fault, but higher rates mean she’ll have to move.

“Where does it stop? We’ve worked hard,” Brewer said. “If it goes any higher we’re probably going to have to sell as well.”