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Insurance companies are pulling out of California because of wildfires

May is Wildfire Preparedness Month, but one key part of being prepared — having homeowner insurance that covers wildfires — is becoming harder.
A motorists on Highway 101 watches flames from the Thomas Fire.
Posted at 7:36 PM, May 14, 2024

Over the nearly 25 years Ed Bratt has owned his Oakland, California, home, he's become accustomed to getting notices that his homeowner insurance costs are going up.

But in the last bill, he got some news that really shocked him: His policy was being dropped.

"So I received a letter from my insurer, the same insurer that we've had since I bought this house in 1999, saying they were not going to renew our policy. They said we lived in a high fire area and they were not renewing it," Bratt said.

Bratt told The Associated Press that even if he wanted to move on from his Bay Area home and flee California, he probably couldn't.

"I can't sell it. Apparently now you can't sell houses because they can't get insurance," said Bratt.

As thousands of California homes have been destroyed in recent years by climate change-fueled wildfires, insurance companies like Allstate, Farmers and State Farm have either stopped issuing new policies or stopped renewing old ones.

Premiums for those insurance companies still doing business in the state have skyrocketed. The federal government estimates California has seen at least $50 billion in wildfire damage between 2013 and 2023.

Wildfire academy students gather for instruction in a classroom.

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"I've seen premiums $40,000, $50,000, $60,000. I mean, just ridiculous," said Los Angeles insurance broker Karl Susman.

Susman said devastating natural disasters are making the Golden State a bad bet for insurers.

"Insurance companies make money by selling insurance. If they're choosing to not sell insurance, there's a pretty good reason. That's only that they cannot make money doing it," he said.

High costs to rebuild are also contributing. As American National insurance leaves the state, a spokesperson told Scripps San Diego: "Inflationary pressures have also increased the cost of claims payments, which has compounded the lack of profitability."

Insurance companies want the state to allow them to use so-called catastrophe modeling, allowing them to use historical data and projected losses in setting rates for wildfire insurance.

Critics complain that the methods companies use to make those projections are not transparent.

"The insurance market right now is in chaos and part of it is in chaos because for years insurers have not have adequate rates. In the last 10 years, they paid $1.13 for every dollar they took in. So insurers need to get adequate rates," said Mark Sektnan, vice president of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

Back in Oakland, Ed Bratt just wants something done.

"I wish the insurance commissioner and the insurance companies could work out what's wrong here, why this has suddenly come to a head," he said.