Homeowners Insurance

Beware Repair Scams and Risky Contracts After Hurricane Irma

After the storm come the repairs and the insurance settlements--and some inevitable complications as consumers wrestle with those two realities at once.

In particular, Florida officials are urging homeowners faced with repairs from signing over to tradespeople the right to negotiate with the insurance company. David Altmaier, Florida’s Insurance Commissioner, warns that after damage is assessed a contractor, water extraction company, roofer, or a plumber, to cite just some providers, may present the consumer with a document to sign before repair work begins, which might include what is known as an Assignment of Benefits (AOB).

If signed by the homeowner, Altmaier warns, the AOB may give the repair vendor the right to exclusively communicate with the insurance company, negotiate and endorse insurance claim payments and file a lawsuit against the insurance company, with or without the homeowners knowledge. “Homeowners are encouraged to file a claim directly with their insurance company to maintain control of the rights and benefits provided by their insurance policy in resolving a claim.”

In addition to urging that homeowners facing repairs read what any document contains, to ensure there is no AOB, Altmaier urges attention to what the document may omit or leave out. “Do not sign the document if there are any blank spaces’” he warns.

Apart from their impact on consumers, the state regulator says that AOBs have been a factor in rising homeowners insurance rates in Florida, due to litigation associated with some of claims associated with AOB provisions.

It’s also worth heeding additional advice the state regulator issued in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which struck the state last year.

Then, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (FLOIR) reminded residents to be “cautious of repair deals that sound too good to be true.” When in need of temporary repairs, policyholders should demand to see proof of licensing or training credentials for any third party offering its services.

Also, officials point out that Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation allows anyone to look up contractor licenses on the department’s website, and recommends cross-checking a potential third-party company against their list. Anyone considering working with a third party can further insulate themselves from a scam by asking potential third-party hires for references.

To be sure they get the best claim settlement possible and to shift the time consuming responsibilities of an insurance claim on a professional, a policyholder might choose to hire a public insurance adjuster. For a percentage of the final settlement, a public adjuster will create a detailed, professional claim, submit it for a client and handle the claims process from beginning to end.

They also work to negotiate with contractors. Public insurance adjusters are experts in the details and language of insurance policies, as well as filing and adjusting claims. They commonly have prior experience in construction (and other related fields) and use sophisticated software to undergo an independent evaluation of a client's property loss. Public adjusters aren't just better equipped than the average policyholder to estimate the costs incurred from a property loss -- they know exactly how to log and submit initial and supplemental claims and do this for a policyholder.

But like the examples regarding third-party vendors above, there are precautions policyholders need to take before hiring a public adjuster. Public adjusters are licensed – do not use any other professional, such as an attorney or contractor, for adjustment services if they are not authorized to perform.

Paul Reynolds

Paul Reynolds is a former Editor at ValuePenguin. He previously worked as an editor at Consumer Reports and Purch.

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