Changes coming to Citizens sinkhole insurance coverage

Previously uninsurable homes could be covered

PASCO COUNTY - Pasco County realtor Susanna Vizzari says about 30 percent of the homes she lists have had some sort of sinkhole problem.

"And anywhere you come across if you have Citizens insurance you have a tough road," she said.

For thousands of Tampa Bay area homeowners, Citizens is the only option, and Vizzari says keeping coverage after a sinkhole isn't easy.

But Wednesday, the official announcement comes that Citizens and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation have approved changes to make many previously uninsurable homes eligible for coverage.

"Citizens being the only game in town, when they said no, it was a big no," said broker Greg Armstrong.

Armstrong, who owns, Coldwell Banker F.I. Grey Residential, says uninsurable homes have led to a huge drop in many home values, which, in turn, means lost tax revenue.

He says more effort will be made to repair the homes instead of just writing checks to the homeowners for the damage.

"They finally came to realize that it was too big an effect and if it's a repaired sinkhole then we need to insure those properties," he said.

According to the Florida Association for insurance reform, the underwriting changes allow policies to be written on homes that may have had sinkhole repairs go over policy limits or used other repair methods.

The hope is to get more repairs done and eliminate fraudulent claims.

"It take a lot of people two years to get to this point,  but we finally got Citizens to see it our way and it's great news for the people of the Tampa Bay area," said Armstrong.

Also being discussed, a plan by Citizens where they would select repair companies and pay them directly.

See a map of Florida's sinkholes:   http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/geologictopics/sinkhole/florida_sinkhole_poster.pdf

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