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Action 9: Laws that would change contractor practices gain traction

Florida Politics

Originally published by WFTV   |   Watch Video

ORLANDO, Fla. - For several years, Action 9 has exposed how some contractors abuse water damage insurance claims and drive up everyone's homeowners’ premiums.

These companies take over your insurance claim and submit inflated repair bills.

All attempts to change the law have failed, but consumer investigator Todd Ulrich reported that could change in just a few months.

“It's just outrageous that they would charge that much for what they did,” said a homeowner. He claimed a contractor took over his water damage insurance claim, ran up the bill and didn't leave him any money to rebuild the bathroom.

After a hurricane, another owner said a contractor collected his insurance money to replace the roof, but that never happened.

“I think they pocketed the money. I hate to say it,” he said.

Both homeowners had signed an assignment of benefits contract, giving contractors total control of their insurance claim.

Critics said repair companies file inflated or phony claims, driving up everyone's insurance rates by double digits.

“I hate assignment of benefits. It should be outlawed,” Darlene Masturzo said.

Now AOB reforms have the best shot at passing in the Florida Legislature. The reforms would give consumers control and cap runaway AOB inflation.

“The legislature is already moving two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate -- and the Florida Chamber is optimistic consumers will get a win out of this,” said Mark Wilson with the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Key provisions of the AOB reforms would limit emergency water damage claims to repairs preventing further damage, not rebuilding. Consumers would be able to cancel an AOB contract if work doesn't start in 30 days, and the reforms would curb soaring legal fees insurance companies pay to challenge inflated repair bills.

Supporters said it's all possible since the state's top republican backs the effort.

“To reform the issue of AOB, which has become a racket," Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

Masturzo called Action 9 two years ago after an assignment of benefits contract left her stranded in a gutted home she could not afford to rebuild. It took her two years to recover.

“What has this been like for you?” Ulrich asked.

“Pure hell,” Masturzo replied.

The restoration industry and it’s attorney groups oppose the reforms, saying AOB contracts give consumers the best chance to get their full insurance coverage-- and that intense opposition remains.