Insurance companies are dropping home coverage in Oregon due to wildfire risk

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State officials say insurance companies were choosing to not renew home policies before SB 762 was signed

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After recent years of massive wildfires across the Western United States, several insurance companies are choosing not to renew certain home insurance policies due to a property’s risk of wildfire. 

Chris Adlam is a regional fire specialist at Oregon State University’s extension service fire program in Southwest Oregon. He’s heard about insurance providers canceling Oregonians’ home policies due to fire risk and on Monday, he found out it had happened to him. 

“It’s not exactly a surprise to me, but a bit of a shock still because I thought that having found this policy, it was just going to be there in the future and I didn’t realize that one day I’d call them up and they’d tell me ‘Oh, by the way, we’re not going to renew this policy,’” he said. 

Adlam’s situation is part of a growing trend that Oregon lawmakers said they’ve been noticing. 

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, who served as chair of the Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery in the 2021-2022 legislative session, said the state has seen many cases of non-renewals and huge premium increases that started before Oregon’s 2021 wildfire law, Senate Bill 762, went into effect. 

“It’s the result of the billions of dollars the insurers have lost from wildfire claims,” Golden said. 

As a regional fire specialist, Adlam spends his days figuring out how communities and the public can live better with fire. He said insurance companies dumping their clients due to wildfire risk isn’t making things better, it’s simply avoiding the problem. 

According to Jason Horton, public information officer for Oregon’s Division of Financial Regulation, which oversees insurance services in the state, companies are allowed to not renew policies because of a home’s wildfire risk. 

He said each company has its own underwriting practices and risk tolerances that it must apply uniformly across the state. 

During a renewal period, an insurance company can reassess if its risk tolerance policy will cover a home and how much it will cost. 

After the Labor Day 2020 wildfires destroyed more than 4,000 homes across the state, Horton said insurance carriers have made and are continuing to make changes to their underwriting practices that have resulted in more people losing coverage. 

Rather than refuse to cover homes in high-risk areas, Adlam said he’d like to see insurance companies take another approach. 

He’d like to instead see them perhaps offer discounts to towns that take steps to protect their structures. For example, he said discounts could be given to certified Firewise communities. These are communities that have completed wildfire risk assessments, determined which areas need improvements and created an action plan on how to make those safety improvements. 

Communities can apply for recognition through the National Fire Prevention Association and must meet certain criteria every year to remain in good standing. Adlam said maintaining this status could be a way to show insurance companies that a community is taking steps to reduce its wildfire risk. 

He’d also like to see home insurance discounts or more policy renewals made for properties where the owners can prove they’ve created defensible space around their house or performed fuels reduction on their land. 

“I’m concerned that dropping people is not doing that. It is not helping move people in the direction of empowerment and reducing risk around their homes,” Adlam said. 

Although Adlam has created defensible space, performed controlled burns to reduce fuels on his property and installed a gravity-fed irrigation system for firefighting on his property, his insurance company, Progressive, told him there’s nothing he can do to convince them to renew his policy. 

California has created a state law that places a one-year moratorium on insurance companies and prevents them from canceling or not renewing home insurance properties in areas within or adjacent to a wildfire perimeter after the governor declares a state of emergency. 

The insurance commissioner for California also created a regulation in 2022 that requires insurance companies to provide discounts to homeowners who take steps to protect their homes from burning in a wildfire. 

“These are measures that we know work, home hardening. And the insurance industry could be a powerful ally in promoting these practices,” Adlam said

He hopes Oregon follows California’s example in drafting laws that help ensure more Oregonians can maintain their home insurance. 

As for his own situation, Adlam said his insurance broker has told him there aren’t any companies that will currently provide coverage for his home. He plans to continue his search but said if necessary, he’ll resort to the Oregon FAIR plan. The plan is operated through a non-profit association and serves as a last resort if a property owner can’t find insurance coverage in the standard market. 

In June, Oregon state officials released the wildfire risk map which served as a visual representation of what the wildfire risk is for all of Oregon’s 1.8 million tax lots. Many residents feared the map could serve as a reason for insurance companies to drop their home policies if the residents lived in high- or extreme-risk areas. 

The Division of Financial Services reassured Oregonians in August that insurance companies currently have no plans to use the map in their decision-making.  

Since the map’s initial release, it has been withdrawn and state officials plan to receive more feedback before releasing an updated version. 

Adlam does not think this map impacted Progressive’s decision to drop his coverage. He thinks it’s been a growing trend and this year, his property didn’t make the company’s cut. 

KOIN 6 News contacted Progressive to ask if it’s been canceling more policies for customers this year and how it determines if a home is in an area that can’t be insured due to wildfire risk. The company did not send a response as of this writing.

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