Originally published by ABC Action News - WFTS Tampa Bay| Read Full Article Here
By Stassy Olmos
TAMPA, Fla. — Florida homeowners say roofers are making the deal for a new roof too good to pass up, but the real cost is falling on insurance companies and residents across the state.
“It comes across as ‘Oh, I’d be foolish not to do this,'” said Pinellas County homeowner Adam Schwebach.
An ABC Action News investigation found Schwebach was targeted by a roofing company through his personal information.
He received a text message at 8:35 p.m. on April 14 asking, “Is this Adam.”
When he said "yes," the texts kept coming:
"This is Vincent with Citrus Contracting.. Tampa Bay Area roofer. I got your number from truepeoplesearch.com instead of knocking on your door & disturbing you.
Right now the insurance companies are obligated to pay to replace homeowners roofs if there is any type of storm damage. It’s at a 95% approval rate & we just recently had a storm on 3/12/22 that is getting a lot approved.”
The state of Florida also has roofing laws requiring a full roof replacement… and that’s why everyone is getting new roofs.
If you qualify and get approved… you only pay your insurance deductible for the new roof which is either $1,000 or $2,500.”
Schwebach said he might have gone for it if he didn’t work in the insurance industry.
“It’s just sad,” he said. “The way that it’s presented it is so easy for someone who doesn’t know just to say, ‘Yes, come on out and look at my roof and suddenly they’re going to file a claim.”
Governor Ron Desantis tried to stop this type of soliciting last year with Senate Bill 76, but due to two lawsuits on freedom of speech, these texts are technically legal.
We tried to call Vincent at the number the texts came from, but the phone was off. We sent a text message, but it was never delivered.
We then looked up Citrus Contracting. It turns out they have offices all over the state, but Tampa’s is now closed.
The main office in Winter Haven is under Total Home Roofing. A receptionist said they are all merging into Angi’s Roofing.
We then spoke with the marketing director for all three companies, she said they will look into the text messages Schwebach received.
As for Citrus Contracting, they have 39 complaints with the Better Business Bureau, many mentioning solicitation, claiming storm damage and insurance paying for their new roof.
“What is spooky is the minutia of information about that customer so they're clearly, they're going and targeting the older roofs that they know are nearing the end of useful life and then baiting the customer,” Bob Richie told ABC Action News.
Ritchie is the CEO of American Integrity Insurance, one of the largest domestic property insurance companies in the state.
“One insurance company in particular that we write a lot of business with, in speaking with, the CEO was telling us that last year he averaged 26 lawsuits a day for roofs,” Mike Puffer, a partner with Florida Strategic Insurance told reporter Stassy Olmos in April.
He was talking about Ritchie.
“Twenty-six lawsuits a day, what is the scope of that? How many are you dealing with?” Olmos asked Ritchie in an interview.
He said it was hard to scale because they can’t afford to go to court for many.
“We have 250 employees, our largest department by staffing and payroll is our legal department,” Ritchie explained.
He said it’s been a seven-year battle to sort through the roof storm damage claims coming in by the dozens, daily.
“Of course, there are valid claims we do, our discovery, our adjudication, and some, in fact, are covered,” he explained. Most, he added, are normal wear and tear and should not require an entirely new roof.
But if they go to court, under Florida Statutes, they’re at high risk of paying a fee multiplier two to three times the attorney’s hourly rate.
“We see some law firms filing these frivolous lawsuits literally by the thousands,” said Mark Friedlander a spokesperson with the Insurance Information Institute told ABC Action News. “More than 100,000 lawsuits were filed against property insurers in 2021, roughly 79% of all lawsuits in the U.S.”
A study called 'Florida’s P&C Insurance Market: Spiraling Toward Collapse' commissioned by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee found that of the $15 billion that went to litigated claims since 2015:
8% went to policyholders
21% to defense attorneys
71% to plaintiffs' attorneys (roofer attorneys)
“I can tell you that many of the lawsuits that come in, we are having to settle which obviously increased our cost and increase the need for additional rate increases,” Ritchie said.
Many of his clients' premiums have doubled, and some have tripled.
“We're projecting 30% to 40% average increases this year across the board. With so many homeowners seeing renewals 50% or much more than that,” Friedlander added.
Ritchie said the solution is simple: actual cash value on roof repairs covered by insurance and guidelines to limit fee multipliers.
A property insurance bill with changes to roof replacement costs passed the senate in this last legislative session but died in the house.
“The House wouldn't take it up, and that's the concern we have for this special session,” Friedlander said. “We're still not seeing House leadership commit to making major changes to property reform that would help the situation.”
The special session starts May 23 and while we haven’t seen any details or drafts of possible changes, we know they are looking at:
actual cash value replacement on roofs (ACV)
help for Citizens Property Insurance
changes to the hurricane catastrophe fund to reduce how much insurance companies pay into the fund to help with homeowner’s rates
Keep in mind the Insurance Information Institute said it takes about a year and a half for legislation to really show any changes.
As for Schwebach, he said regardless of finances, he’s going to do things the right way.
“I just bought a new house last month and it’s got an 11-year-old roof, and I will be replacing it out of my pocket,” he said.
We are waiting to hear back from Citrus Contracting under Angi’s Roofing regarding those specific texts.
When we asked Ritchie what he would say to American Integrity customers, he said:
“I will first tell you that we're doing everything in our power to solve this crisis for you. I'm honored to be your insurer. I'm very sorry for the rate increases. I know the financial pain is putting you under and there's no easy way out until the right legislative reform is enacted. I will tell you that I believe that we will get this solved, yet I know the heartaches that you're experiencing. I read every email, every letter coming in. I know you've had to take tough actions, such as dropping your insurance.. such as reducing your coverage, so you don't have everything that might be covered under the policy, such as making life choices of food on the table or insuring your home, because these rate increases are not nominal. We're talking about major changes to household budgets and it's immoral. It didn't have to be this bad, but I can promise you this, as your CEO, I've been about the most active in Tallahassee and I’m not there to win a popularity contest and it doesn't feel like it because our premiums are still going up, not down, but I’m going to fight for all of us.”