"Hardening of homes is the only way Floridians have to help control...the spiraling cost of insurance in this state," she said. "The more they hear, 'I didn't get anything for doing that, the less they're going to" do it.
Westcott said the inspections are also hurting the state's housing market: "You might get to the closing table [to find out] you can't afford to buy that house anymore because the insurance is going to be greater than you expected. We've heard a lot of realtors say potential sales go away."
Westcott recommended, among other things, that Citizens rewrite information sent to consumers with "plain language," provide more detailed information to policyholders before they have inspections; require inspectors to pull permits before they inspect a home; provide space for policyholders' comments on forms filled out during each inspection; and inform policyholders of why specifically they don't qualify for a certain discount so they can consider making the right upgrades.
Carol Everhart, a Citizens board member and the committee's leader, asked Westcott to help Citizens draft a brochure to make the process easier to understand. Citizens' employees plan to research some of Westcott's other recommendations before bringing proposals back to board members for consideration.
Westcott said her office is also concerned about a proposal to raise new Citizens policyholders' rates by more than its current cap of 10 percent a year and reduce coverage for water losses to $15,000. The insurer's board plans to vote on the proposals at a meeting in Miami Friday.
Complaints about inspections
Westcott described a consumer who had three inspections done by Citizens' contractors and each had a different result. One inspector pulled permits and took a photo of roof clips to help the consumer score discounts. The other two did not pull the permit and wrote "other" instead of noting the clips were there. "What is 'other'? Well, they lost all of their credits," she said.
"That is unfair," she said. "We are not doing the right thing by the consumer here."
She also said many consumers have windows with etchings on them that prove they're hurricane resistant if they're looked up at Home Depot. "It's discoverable...Just because it's not bloody obvious, [doesn't mean] they're not entitled to the discount," she said.
Westcott said the state has gotten complaints about the inspections from consumers, bankers, real estate agents, inspectors, public adjusters and others. We'll note how many complaints the state has received when we get the information.
Citizens said only 3 percent of policyholders who had inspections done disputed them and only 1 percent received additional discounts after disputing the findings.
Are inspectors told to remove discounts?
Westcott questioned what Citizens is telling the inspectors. "We've got some folks out there that either aren't doing it correctly or are doing it under instructions to take the credit away," she said.
Citizens' executives said the insurer is doing the inspections so premiums and discounts are based on accurate information, not to raise premiums. "By no means, [are there] any instructions...to take away wind mitigation credits," said Yong Gilroy, Citizen's chief insurance officer. "We're trying to do all the right things" but Citizens employees have to balance what regulators, policyholders, board members and elected officials want.
Some policyholders have asked whether inspectors receive financial incentives for taking discounts away. Citizens Spokeswoman Christine Ashburn said, "Absolutely not."
Citizens' board meeting is Friday at 9 a.m. at the Marriott Hotel, 11099 Brickell Ave., Miami.