Florida losing 38,000 more home policies

Published February 3, 2007

The Hartford Financial Services Group has notified Florida regulators it will not renew about 38,000 homeowner policies beginning in August 2008, further slicing into the state's already beleaguered property insurance market.

The Connecticut company said it will continue to write about 80,000 homeowner policies in Florida through its partnership with the American Association of Retired Persons AARP.

But Hartford also told regulators it plans to phase out about a third of its much smaller commercial insurance account.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist issued an emergency order, approved by the Cabinet, that effectively freezes rates for all insurers and places a moratorium on nonrenewals for at least 90 days.

"We're not pulling out of the state," Hartford spokesman Joe Loparco said Friday. "This is something we had planned well before anything happened. Part of what we do on an ongoing basis is look at our exposure all over the country."

Bob Lotane, a spokesman for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, said Hartford notified regulators of their plans to shed policies four days before Crist's order .

"So they had no way of knowing the rule was coming," Lotane said.

Still, the move comes as Florida struggles to keep private insurers from fleeing the state en masse, often leaving state-run Citizens Property Insurance as the only alternative.

Allstate has announced it will not renew more than 200,000 policies statewide, and others such as Liberty Mutual and Nationwide also have shed large blocks of policies.

"We don't welcome news of any contraction in the market." Lotane said. "However, these are business decisions companies make and are allowed under Florida law."

To help fill the void, Lotane said the state is reviewing plans from a Dallas startup company, American Integrity Insurance Co. of Florida, to take over as many as 100,000 policies from Citizens.

American Integrity will get no bonuses from the state for taking the policies and must agree to offer consumers at least three years' coverage. And because of new changes to Florida law, Citizens customers for the first time can refuse American Integrity's offer and stay with the state-run company.

"There are a few hurdles," Lotane said, "but it looks positive."

Tom Zucco can be reached at zucco@sptimes.com or (727)893-8247.