FIRM
FIRM’s fundraiser at Centennial Bank in Key West on Dec. 12 raises money to help fight for Monroe County property owner rights. CAROLINE HORN/Contributed

Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM) was the only grassroots entity mentioned in the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s (OIR) order filed on Dec. 6. The order freezes rate increases for Monroe County Citizens Insurance policy holders.

“It is gratifying that OIR has taken the steps to look at the things we have been asking them to look at all these years,” said FIRM Advisory Board Member and Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers. “We have been asking them for 11 years to look at our surge versus wind damages and our stringent building codes. They finally listened.”

After considering testimony and documents from FIRM and comments received from residents of Monroe County, OIR Commissioner David Altmaier ordered homeowner’s windstorm rates for Monroe County to remain at current levels. Over the last several years, rate increases have been around 10 percent every year. FIRM testified at the rate hearings that Citizens windstorm insurance rates are unjustifiably high for Monroe County, resulting in Monroe County premiums being more than $750 million higher than claims since 2004.

“After a storm like Irma, I am glad they didn’t add insult to injury,” she said.

Marathon homeowner Mary Stella said she is glad there is a freeze. “I already pay nearly $5,000 a year in premiums with a 2 percent deductible,” she said. But, her real qualm is more with the aftermath of Irma. “I take serious issue with homeowners having to hire their own adjusters or otherwise do battle with Citizens to get fair settlement of our legitimate claims.”

FIRM President Mel Montagne said in a press release that the rate freeze is a big win for the residents of Monroe County, especially as so many are rebuilding after Hurricane Irma.

“We are so grateful for the support we receive from our state and local elected officials and the local governments and associations who continue to financially support our efforts, and especially to our members, who donate, volunteer, send comments and continue to fight alongside us,” he said. “There is more work to be done, as condo and mobile home rates will continue to rise, but this result is truly good news for us.”

FIRM is also awaiting the results of its lawsuit against the OIR concerning the 2017 rate increases. FIRM states that OIR wrongly denied Monroe County policy holders the right to present a case against unjustifiably high and unaffordable wind insurance rates. If FIRM is permitted to move its case forward, FIRM will show that the rate setting methodology utilized by Citizens and approved by OIR is flawed as it relates to Monroe County. FIRM’s attorneys presented oral arguments before the First Appellate Court in October.

FIRM is a grassroots organization that started in 2006 to fight for property owners’ rights in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. In addition to advocacy, the group keeps the community in the know with events like flood mitigation workshops. The next workshops take place Jan. 16 in Marathon, Jan. 17 in Key Largo, and Jan. 18 in Key West. The group, which has 3,700 members and is free to join, has a monthly e-newsletter to keep members up-to-date with flood and wind news. To join, visit firmkeys.org.

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