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Homeowners in Julian frustrated with not getting discounts for fire mitigation

The California Department of Insurance Commission proposed new rules that would require homeowners get a credit for fire safety around their home.

JULIAN, Calif. — Last week, CBS 8 reported about an East County homeowner's $8,000 bill to renew their home insurance.

We've heard from many of you since then with concerns about the high cost to get insured for fire protection or even worse, having policies dropped. 

Homeowners in Harrison Park in Julian say they have donated fire hydrants on their block, water tanks in their backyard, sprinklers inside their home yet the only insurance company that will cover them is not giving them a credit that they say they deserve and charging them thousands of dollars.

Homeowners south of Julian have been voicing their concern about what they say are unfair home insurance rates in fire prone areas.

“It's $4,000 and we expect it to go up any day,” said Dan Cline, Julian homeowner.

It took Cline nine years to rebuild after his home burned down in the 2003 Cedar Fire.

“I have misters and fire plugs and everything they asked for,” said Cline.

His neighbor Heather knew buying in Julian would come with a high premium but didn’t expect this much.

“This is absolutely ridiculous. A $2,500 increase in two years is not okay,” said Heather.

Heather didn’t want to disclose her last name. She contacted CBS 8 after we shared the story about a Dehesa couple who was sent an $8,000 renewal policy from Traveler's insurance. The Olson’s pruned their trees, have a fire hydrant and there's fire station close by. It’s a similar story for Heather.

“I have fire stations this way, under five miles in this direction and a whole house interior sprinkler system and none of that is recognized,” said Heather.

Like many neighbors, they couldn't get fire coverage so were forced to use the expensive California Fair Plan (CFP) which is a state run insurance program designed as a last resort for those who can't get coverage elsewhere.

They have water sources, the HOA donated 13 fire hydrants in their community.

The CFP representative emailed a statement to CBS 8 in part, “the FAIR Plan currently offers a discount for residential property located in a designated Firewise community. Firewise is a national recognition program providing a collaborative framework to help neighbors in a geographic area get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and community and to reduce wildfire risks at the local level. The qualifications are based on the mitigation efforts of the community and do not consider mitigation undertaken by individual property owners. The FAIR Plan does not have any other discounts available for mitigation at this time.”

Alpine is the only area in San Diego County considered a Firewise community.

A letter from CFP to Heather says the Insurance Services Office needs the local fire department to survey the hydrants.

Neighbors say they couldn't get a hold of the fire department to assist. CBS 8 reached out to the county and the Fire Chief reached out to the Harrison Park Water District.  

“I appreciate you helping us,” said Heather.

More help may be on the way.

CBS 8’s partner inewsource found that in 2019, insurance companies dropped 3.7% of all homeowners policies across the county, that was a jump from 2.3% in 2018.

The California Department of Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara says because of a moratorium on non-renewals, fewer insurance companies declined to not renew but more people were added to CFP’s policies. The Julian zip code is not part of the moratorium. 

Last week the California Department of Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara released a new proposal that would enforce existing law and require insurance companies to offer discounts to those who take wildfire safety actions in hopes of driving down the cost of premiums and increasing competition.

The commissioner declined CBS 8's request for an interview.

“We can't ignore Californians who make the investment in lowering the risk of wildfire,” said Doug Heller.

He is with the Consumer Federation of America, an insurance watchdog group advocating for fair rules. Heller says just like auto insurance where safe drivers are discounted, homeowners should do if they implement fire safety around their home.

“It's critical that we hold the insurance industry accountable to standards that are fair and equitable for all of us.”

Heller helped craft the commissioner's new proposal and hopes one day it will go further.

“We also have to be careful to make sure the insurance companies simply don't turn their backs and refuse to sell insurance,” said Heller.

Neighbors say until any regulations are passed they feel like they're being held hostage.

“Fingers crossed. They can send you something this spring or summer and say, ‘you're going up,’ well what do you do? You can't find anyone else?” said Cline.

Another issue that is being tied up in court is more regulation on the California Fair Plan.

Heather was only able to get a fire-only coverage from CFP and had to get what is called a wrap around policy from another insurance company to cover non-fire.

Commissioner Lara ordered CFP to offer a comprehensive, affordable premium. The California Fair plan is suing to block the order.

The California Department of Insurance is inviting the public to testify or write to the agency on a proposed new regulations in commissioner well then make a decision after the April 13 hearing.

Click here to find and insurance company or broker will cover you.

WATCH RELATED: Dehesa couple's homeowners insurance goes from $1K to $8K (Feb. 2022).

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