TAMPA, Fla. — One Pinellas County woman discovered she had black mold growing in the walls of her new home, but when she contacted her homeowner’s insurance company, she felt like everyone was avoiding her. She later found out it was because her insurance company was was going into receivership.
“Everybody was avoiding me, the adjuster, the supervisor,” said Judith Slater.
Slater is one of hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners who were dropped from their insurance company going into receivership. As of Friday, a total of nine companies operating in Florida were in receivership and eight were in liquidation.
The latest is FedNat, filing for rehabilitation in receivership Friday, just one week before a special session on property insurance commences in the state legislature.
Slater had Avatar Insurance and is one of 45,000 claims that has fallen into receivership in the last two years alone.
“Let me take you inside and I will apologize for how the place looks. I am in the process of packing stuff up,” Slater told ABC Action News.
She bought a condo at El Pasado in Palm Harbor about a year and a half ago. It passed its initial inspection, but she had no idea what was inside the walls.
“According to the report, the structure has holes and cracks which they use the word it ‘traverses' into these holes and cracks and goes into the drywall and that's where the moisture is coming from,” Slater explained.
She had paid for two separate inspections and both reports found spores of cladosporium, penicillium and stachyboytrous (stachy) mold — also known as black mold.
The stachy mold was found in the wall of her bedroom window, right next to her bed.
A cone now sits over a sprinkler head right outside the window. Slater said maintenance put it there after she complained to the property company, Progressive Management, that water was hitting her wall and window all night long. Slater also showed ABC Action News videos the took on April 28.
“This was the second estimate, $19,524, the other one… $18,271 dollars,” Slater said.
Those estimates are just to remove the mold in the shower, windows, and carpets. They don’t cover putting anything back together.
Slater received an email from an Avatar claims manager on March 17.
It read in part: “There will be no further claim payments made or determinations made at this time. Claims will be transferred to the state and the guarantee association of Florida for final resolution.”
Slater then contacted The Florida Insurance Guarantee Association (FIGA) to finish her claim.
“I know I can’t be the only one,” Slater said.
We went to FIGA Executive Director Corey Neal to ask just how many claims they’re handling.
“A lot,” Neal said point-blank. “This has been going on since 2018. The last two years, we've received 45,000 claims. We currently have 8,000 open claims, and we're planning for an additional 2,000 claims over the next few months.”
FIGA has brought on more than 100 employees to handle existing claims, return premiums, and takeover pending lawsuits with roofing companies.
“We have we have about 2,000 claims and actively being litigated,” Neal said.
“Do you have that much money? Where is it coming from?” ABC Action News Reporter Stassy Olmos asked Neal.
“In 2022, we're expecting to get $100 million from all of these estates,” he said, “The remaining of it's going to have to be an assessment from our insurance members.”
FIGA currently has two fee assessments out to all Florida admitted insurance companies. Neal adds that those costs will be passed down to Florida homeowners in their premiums.
While no insurance company will pick Slater up until her existing claim is closed, she worries about that cost too.
“For Citizens, it's three times the amount right now,” she said regarding the state’s insurer of last resort that is now pushing a million policies.
“On top of having to pay for the repair, having to pay for the fix,” she said, “The bleeding is gonna have to stop somewhere.”
After paying a thousand dollar deductible, Slater received $3,300 from FIGA to remove the mold in her shower.
The rest is considered “exterior” and falls on her property’s homeowner association, which she also pays into, but Slater said they also told her they don’t cover it.
We reached out to both Progressive Management and their insurance company, McGriff, for an explanation regarding her coverage, but neither responded.
“I just want this to be how it should have been when I purchased it... livable,” she said.
Slater sobbed as she showed ABC Action News a pros and cons list she wrote. One of her options is selling and moving into an apartment, but most of the complexes she’s inquired with have waiting lists until 2023.
For now, she’s moving her belongings into a storage unit to start work on the shower.
If you are a homeowner whose insurance company is in receivership, FIGA advises:
- Go straight to your insurance agent for advice.
- You’re covered for 30 days while you find a new insurance company.
- If you have an existing claim, document everything.
- Keep in mind, FIGA takes about 30-40 days just to receive a report on your claim.
Regarding the special session beginning May 23, state lawmakers are still waiting for a draft bill from the governor’s office as of Monday night. They expect to get that either Tuesday or Wednesday.
We caught up with Senator Jeff Brandes, who spearheaded a petition to get this special session. He said he’s hoping the changes are drastic and not just bandaids.
“In this case, I think there's gonna be multiple amendments filed, whether they get on or not, usually the sponsors fight them off. But you know, I think there's a variety of things that we need to do that I'm working on, but once, I can’t draft anything until I see the legislation itself to amend anything to it,” Brandes said.
Governor Ron DeSantis already mentioned bringing forward other bills during this special session, as he did in the last session.
Senator Brandes said fixing the homeowner’s insurance crisis in a week is already a big enough undertaking.
Progressive Management President Maureen Reardon responded to email questions after the story aired.
Reardon stated that, by law, it is the owner's expense to replace windows and air condition units. Writing, “The association will patch the exterior wall where necessary. Until the windows are replaced the outside moisture will continue to come in.”
She adds that they are willing to help Slater, but “the cost of these minor exterior repairs is believed to be less than the insurance deductible.” She adds, “The Association is willing to help Ms. Slater in any way we can.”
- Property insurance companies continue to drop Florida customers
- Homeowners' insurance rates more than double for Florida residents as roofing scams continue
- 80K lawsuits filed against insurance companies in 2020, doubling homeowners insurance premiums
- Lighthouse Homeowners insurance liquidation leaves customers in the lurch
- Florida homeowners will pay the price if lawmakers don’t agree on a fix for property insurance