Instead, his rates under Citizens Property Insurance Corp. increased from about
$1,500 to $3,000.
"At this moment, I have no insurance because the cost is going so high," said
Santiesteban, 83. "I know there are many, many old people that cannot afford to
have insurance for their home because right now it's so high."
Citizens is proposing increases of up to 12 percent statewide. The increase
still must be approved by the state's insurance office, a decision due on Oct.
The state-run insurer has been pushing for higher rates in an effort to get more
customers to seek coverage from private insurers — no easy task. Created to be a
last resort for homeowners who could find no other insurer, Citizens has more
than 1.4 million policyholders and, it says, insufficient money to cover a major
"We've got to have money to pay claims when the hurricane comes or series of
hurricanes come," said Citizens' chief financial officer Sharon Binnun. "The
premium that we are collecting is not enough to pay claims."
But more than a dozen people who spoke blasted the company for its reinspection
program, which often leads to higher costs; for its own legal costs; and for a
controversy over travel spending by its executives.
"This is a company that has strayed from its mission of serving policyholders to
one of indulgence and putting its own needs first," said state Sen. Mike Fasano,
R-New Port Richey, who called the proposed rate hike "the epitome of arrogance."
State Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, a critic of Citizens whose own home is
covered by the insurer, said Floridians are already paying too much. He urged
the insurance office not to approve any increase until the company's costs are
"Their costs are out of control," he said. "I, as a legislator, cannot get the
information as to how much money Citizens is spending on attorneys' fees."
Eduardo Gomez, a Coral Gables attorney who represents homeowners in lawsuits
against Citizens, said the company's policies result in a long and difficult
process to get money for his clients, even after the cases are settled.
"You cannot continue to say that litigation costs are driving the premiums up
because it is the company's policies that are driving the premiums up," said
Gomez, who is himself facing a rate increase from Citizens.
He told the story of a client who is facing a rate hike that could cost him his
"To have a rate increase now with the insurer of last resort would be disastrous
for thousands of Floridians and the national economy," Gomez said.
Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Smith Westcott, who spoke against the
rate increase, said homeowners should try to find other coverage, even if it
means paying higher rates.
"Consumers should take away from this: When it's time for my policy to renew
with Citizens, shop," she said. "Make sure you understand and see the benefit
that might be in the private marketplace."