California: Home insurers avoiding wildfire-prone neighborhoods

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - More California homeowners who live in wildfire-prone neighborhoods are struggling to get homeowners insurance.

And the state insurance commissioner said new laws are needed.

"We know from evaluating under-writing guidelines and from consumer complaints that many insurers are avoiding high-risk fire areas," California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday.

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Jones said the wildfire risk is now year-round and insurers are noticing fires occur in more surprising regions, like Ventura County. That could cause insurers to leave areas they consider riskier.

In San Diego County, 137,786 homes, or 16 percent, are in wildfire-prone areas. Jones said a growing number of them are not going to be able to buy homeowners insurance. Instead, they could be relegated to the California state FAIR plan, which only covers fire damage.

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Robyn Dahlson lost her Bonsall home in December's Lilac Fire.

"We were grossly underinsured," she said, noting she and her husband are paying out of pocket to live in a hotel.

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Jones said he wants the state legislature to enact laws that require insurers to offer homeowners insurance coverage to high-risk homes or an affordable alternative as long as they require tasks to increase safety, such as creating defensible space. 

The American Insurance Association said in a statement that the idea is a bad course of action.

FULL COVERAGE: Lilac Fire hits North San Diego County

“The insurance industry’s overwhelming priority right now is helping their customers rebuild their lives and restore their property. We urge the Commissioner to proceed with caution," the statement said. "... Only a competitive insurance market ultimately will fill the insurance needs of California homeowners.”

Jones said he would be approaching state legislators with his idea in the new session.

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