PALM HARBOR, Fla. — It’s hurricane season in Florida, and the reality is that some homeowners who had existing claims with insurance companies that have gone into receivership are still without coverage while previous claims are still open.
She had opened a claim with her property insurance, Avatar, which went into liquidation shortly after. Her claim became one of the thousands that the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA) had to pick up from companies that’d gone under.
Slater received a little more than $3,000 from FIGA for some of the interior mold, but the price tag for the work needed was closer to $20,000. Slater has been waiting for her homeowner’s association with Progressive Management to help with part of it for months.
“This started in March and here we now are in September, and there's no resolution,” Slater told ABC Action News. “I ended up with kidney cancer… then I was in the hospital because I was having chest pains. And so it's been, you know, the old adage you hit your three and it's a mic drop.”
In March, Slater showed us where Progressive Management put a cone over the sprinkler under her window after she complained of water from the sprinkler hitting it night after night.
After our story aired, Progressive Management’s president told us in an email on March 17 that they had capped the sprinkler and would patch the wall where necessary but stated the mold was caused by Slater's windows, which were her responsibility.
The email also stated, “The cost of these minor exterior repairs is believed to be less than the insurance deductible. The association is willing to help Ms. Slater in any way we can.”
We waited five months and followed up with three emails asking how they were able to help Slater.
On August 10, the president told us that their “Association's Liability Policy” denied the claim and they were still waiting to hear from their property carrier.
Slater said she’d been told the same information, but it’s been much longer than 90 days — the average time for a response to an insurance claim.
Now it’s September, the height of hurricane season, and Slater’s home isn’t covered by any property insurance.
“Til the claim is closed, there's no insurance. And then, once we get the finalization that the claim is closed and I get the documentation to show the claim is closed, then I can get insurance,” Slater explained. “From talking to one of the insurance companies, I was initially told that as long as I have a contract that they can proceed to an insurance. I've been ghosted.”
Ghosted means they’ve stopped talking to her, which would make sense for a company that doesn’t want to take on a home with pre-existing issues.
On September 1, Slater pulled money from her 401k to get the mold remediation done.
We went to meet the remediation company to see how big the job was, and it turns out it was a lot more mold than they anticipated.
“There’s different containments… we have one for that exterior wall and we have another one for the bathroom,” Florida’s Elite Restoration Co-Owner Josh Martin said.
He used to be an insurance adjuster and started this business to help people with water damage, not knowing most of his work would be just like Slater’s condo.
“Probably… 80 to 90% of every job we do ends up being a mold job because, by the time we get to it, you pull back the baseboards, you look at the cabinetry, there's mold everywhere,” Martin said.
He added that he’s seen many homeowners and associations that don’t understand their responsibility.
“People just kind of presume I think that every insurance policy is the same, and it's not,” Martin exclaimed. “There's 10K water caps now that are popping up everywhere… Or even your deductibles. Like for example, State Farm has a percentage deductible… you file a claim and you have a $14,000 deductible when your kitchen could cost $14,000.”
In Slater’s case, we looked up the Florida Condominium Act which states a homeowner’s association is responsible to maintain “common elements” such as the roof and exterior walls shared with other units.
We then spoke with a Florida attorney who represents homeowners in cases like Slater’s, who said an outside sprinkler causing water to eat at paint and get into drywall would be water intrusion from a common element, which could legally be the HOA’s responsibility.
Unfortunately, Slater’s condo did not pass its first air test after remediation, so the company will keep working until they find all of the mold.
“I'm glad you're in my corner, but if somebody's going through this, they have to be their own advocate… they can't give up,” Slater said.
Three important lessons for any homeowner to keep in mind:
- When buying a home, inspectors look for water damage, not necessarily mold
- Know your property insurance company and the details in your coverage
- If you have an HOA, read the declaration and know what their responsibilities are