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Rate rollback skips condos

The law may stay some increases, but many condo dwellers will be hit again.

By TOM ZUCCO
Published February 21, 2007


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It seemed at first that everybody got at least the promise of something good in the wake of the state's new property insurance law. Homeowners stood to get a break on their premiums, and business owners might find coverage where they hadn't before through state-backed Citizens Property Insurance.

But what of the state's 1.3-million condo residents? They, after all, are suffering just as much. And somehow, they got lost in the legislative shuffle.

The condos at Landmark Place in Clearwater sell for about $180,000. Teachers live there, along with nurses, plumbers, painters and computer programmers.

Insuring the five two-story masonry buildings cost the condo association $13,644 in 2004.

This year's figure: $78,514. The monthly maintenance fee soared from $168 in 2001 to $289 this year, not including an additional $600 assessment per unit for property insurance.

What's more, condo owners must also buy contents insurance, which could add up to $1,000 a year more.

Two years ago, Allstate dropped the condo association, leaving Citizens as the only choice.

"I want somebody to explain why we're not getting a rate decrease," said Ted Niarhos, president of the Landmark condo association. "We're being treated as second-class homeowners."

The answer has to do with timing.

Condo owners are not initially affected by the new law. But policies coming up for renewal after May 1 won't see a rate increase for a year.

One of the key provisions of the new law dealt with a 25-percent rate hike residential property owners were facing Jan. 1. To stave off that increase, lawmakers allowed Citizens to roll its rates back to Dec. 31, 2006, levels. But that affected only residential rates.

Condo rates were established months earlier, and nothing could be done to change that. "The new condo rates were put in place last May," said Citizens spokesman Rocky Scott. "They were already in effect for 2007. There was no rollback because there was no scheduled rate increase for condos in 2007."

But for 2007, Citizens' condo rates will be the same as in 2006. Condo policies that come up for renewal after May 1 of this year - and until May 1, 2008 - will stay the same.

But policies up for renewal before May 1 of this year will see rates go up a statewide average of 27.5 percent. In some cases, where Citizens provides only the windstorm coverage, the increase will exceed 200 percent.

"Condos took a big hit last year," Scott said, adding that premiums for some condos along the coast more than doubled. The main reason, Scott said, is that many condos hadn't been appraised in several years, and Citizens gained new condo policies almost as fast as it could process them, meaning its exposed risk skyrocketed.

"We had no choice," Scott said. "We had to raise rates substantially."

It's unlikely condo associations can find cheaper coverage than Citizens in the private market. But that's not necessarily bad news.

"The rates Citizens is charging now are below the marketplace," said Adam Lopatin, senior vice president for Wells Fargo Insurance Services, a major insurance broker. "One of the only carriers still writing that has capacity in the Tampa Bay area is Australia-based QBE, and their rates right now are not competitive with Citizens."

So while condo owners can expect a year of relief, the sticker shock remains.

"By law, we have to maintain the condo property," Landmark's Niarhos said, "regardless of what the insurance premium is. And the landscaping and tree-trimming cost money. But insurance takes a bigger and bigger bite out of what might have gone to operating expenses.

"If we keep getting hit like this," he said, "more and more people around here will be looking to North Carolina."

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

Fast Facts:

The Citizens situation

State-backed Citizens Property, by far the largest condo insurer in the state, covers about 9,600 condos in Florida, many including more than one building. The total risk exposure is $64-billion. More than half of Citizens' condo policies are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, but the Tampa Bay area accounts for more than 1,600 policies:

County

Citizens policycount Risk exposure
Pinellas 1,060 $7-billion
Hillsborough 451 $3.4-billion
Pasco 89 $699-million
Citrus 31 $110-million
Hernando 6 $21-million

[Last modified February 21, 2007, 10:57:03]


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