USA – SACRAMENTO (AP/KPIX) — Homeowners and renters in 22 Northern California counties are guaranteed not to lose their property insurance policies over the next year after the state announced a moratorium on Monday for people who live near recent wildfires.
State law temporarily bans insurance companies from dropping customers who live in ZIP codes that are either next to or within the perimeter of a declared wildfire disaster. Gov. Gavin has issued six “state of emergency” declarations for wildfires since July 23.
Monday, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara issued a temporary moratorium for about 325,000 policyholders who live near those disasters. The order comes after Lara enacted a similar moratorium in July for 25,000 policyholders in three Northern California counties.
“This California law empowers my office to help give people the breathing room they desperately need as they recover,” Lara said in a news release announcing the moratorium.
KPIX 5 spoke to residents who are skeptical about how much control the State will have over insurance companies. They say having policies canceled is only a small part of the problem.
Just about a month ago, the fast moving Cache fire destroyed roughly 50 homes and it burned right up to Christina Wilson’s doorstep.
“It was scary because I can see straight through and see the fire,” said Wilson.
Her 6-acre property sits in a declared wildfire disaster area due to the Cache fire. Wilson isn’t so sure she and roughly 325,000 other policy holders in the state will now be protected.
“I believe they find loopholes because this has happened consecutively for the last 6 years,” she said.
Since 2015, fires have torched 60% of Lake County’s land mass which has scared many insurance companies away. But according to Commissioner Lara, his new declaration will force insurance companies to keep covering not only wildfire victims but those living in declared disaster areas.
“It’s critical to give people breathing room during a disaster. This is not the time to have wildfire survivors have to search for insurance coverage, even if you don’t lose your home, wildfires are devastating,” said Lara.
Wilson has battled with insurance companies for the last 6 years. She says, it’s not just about her policy being canceled but it’s also about it becoming unaffordable.
“Very frustrating because now up to this point, pretty much the premiums have over tripled to even cover what properties we have,” Wilson added.
For many in the Clearlake community that are living on fixed incomes, there really isn’t a choice to be insured.
“You’re kind of in a tight spot to where you need to be insured so you kinda having to cave in and insure your place or you don’t because you can’t afford it so it’s one or the other,” Wilson said.
This is the third year California has issued these insurance moratoriums since the law was first passed in 2018. Last year, the state ordered protections for more than 2.4 million policyholders during an historic wildfire season that set records for the most land burned in a single year.
Commissioner Lara acknowledges his order is a temporary solution and a long term solution is still in the works.
This year, more than 7,500 wildfires have burned more than 3,593 square miles (9,305 square kilometers). That’s just over half of the land that burned last year.
Insurance companies have lost hundreds of billions of dollars in recent years cleaning up from natural disasters often exacerbated by climate change, including wildfires, hurricanes and floods.
California renters and homeowners have been hit especially hard. Fifteen of the state’s most destructive wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens of people.
That made it harder for people who live in areas impacted by wildfires to get property insurance, with the Department of Insurance reporting an increase in insurance companies not renewing coverage. Many of these people are forced to purchase fire insurance from the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan, a state mandated insurance pool required to sell policies to people who can’t buy them through no fault of their own.
The boundaries for the moratorium are set by the Department of Insurance, in consultation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Homeowners and renters can check the Department of Insurance’s website to see if their ZIP code is covered by the moratorium. Thursday’s order includes parts of Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Glen, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba counties.