California recently announced new wildfire insurance rules that might be a glimpse into the future for Washington State homeowners having trouble getting insurance coverage in wildfire-prone parts of Washington. California’s new rules help people who can no longer get homeowner’s insurance coverage due to increased wildfire risk. The new rules expand a California state-run program acting as the insurer of last resort for homeowners living in areas at high risk of wildfires.
Like Washington and Oregon, California has seen significant damage from large wildfires in recent years. This has caused many insurance companies to cancel homeowner’s insurance policies for homes in high-risk areas. Even where coverage remains available, premiums have increased significantly. Many California homeowners have complained about being abruptly dropped by their homeowner’s carriers, or facing exorbitant price increases. In 2017 and 2018, California wildfires caused over 124,000 claims and about $26 billion in losses. Like other mass-disaster claims, wildfire insurance claims are often difficult due to the scope of the losses and the size of the claims.
California’s Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plan collects contributions from California insurance companies to support a fire loss coverage fund. Starting in April, FAIR will cover up to $3 million in damages, and will eventually be expanded to cover other non-fire liabilities, such as water damage or personal liability, typically covered by traditional homeowners insurance. The goal is that homeowners covered by FAIR should have adequate coverage without having to buy additional insurance.
The move was, predictably, applauded by consumer advocates but criticized by the insurance industry, which said the changes could hurt consumer choice.