About the same time that it announced a major pull-back from the Florida and California markets, Farmers Insurance also sent thousands of nonrenewal notices to Georgia homeowners. In Georgia, though, the carrier appears to have misunderstood the state’s rather unique law on nonrenewals – and has been forced to backtrack.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner John King put out a bulletin Friday saying Farmers had rescinded the nonrenewal notices that were mailed to homeowners in early July. The nonrenewals explained that if the home’s roof was 15 years old or more, Farmers would no longer write the property.
That’s apparently not allowed under Georgia statute 33-24-46, which forbids carriers from changing underwriting guidelines or eligibility rules for existing policies unless the changes apply to an entire class or territory and has been approved by the commissioner’s office.
“I don’t know how unique our law is but I know that a lot of states don’t have it,” said Weston Burleson, director of communications and legislative affairs for the commissioner’s office.
Farmers’ actions on new policies are not governed by the statute.
Farmers’ director of public relations, Trevor Chapman, shed little light on the issue Monday.
“We have decided not to move forward with our plan to non-renew a limited number of homeowners policies with older roofs,” Chapman said in an email. “We have begun to notify affected customers of this decision.”
The sudden reversal came as a surprise to some in the industry in Florida, which has seen several insurers in recent years non-renew HO policies because of roof age and a distressed market. Others said the legal team for Farmers, one of the largest property carriers in the country, should have known the statutory and regulatory restrictions in Georgia, and probably should have filed for approval before gradually reducing its exposure in the state.
“I am extremely disappointed with the actions of Farmers and am contemplating further disciplinary actions at this time,” King said in the news release.
Actions could include monetary penalties or pulling Farmers’ license to do business in Georgia, King warned.
The letters to at least some Farmers’ policyholders in Georgia went out July 6. King’s office did not know the exact number of notices sent, but Burleson said tens of thousands of homeowners were affected. Within two weeks of the notices, the office had reacted.
“It was brought to our attention this week that Farmers Insurance had alerted their customers that they would be non-renewing any homeowner policies on homes with roofs over 15 years old, in blatant violation of Georgia law,” King said in the statement last week. “My office immediately took action, ordering Farmers to reverse course and rescind these scheduled non-renewals.”
The nonrenewals are a sign of the times in the U.S. property insurance industry, which has been hammered in major markets: wildfires in California and hurricanes and claims litigation in Florida in recent years. Farmers filed a notice with Florida regulators July 10, announcing that it is essentially pulling out of the state this year, except for policies written by Farmers’ subsidiary companies.
That filing came a month after Farmers said it would stop writing new policies in Florida. Farmers, based in California, also announced it would stop writing new homeowner policies in California, a move that followed similar announcements from State Farm Insurance and Allstate Insurance companies.
This is the first time Georgia regulators have ordered a property insurer to reverse course on nonrenewals, even though the statute has been on the books for a few decades, Burleson said. King, who took office in 2019, has, however, expressed outrage at auto insurers that have raised rates without prior approval.
After Allstate raised auto premiums an average of 40% in 2022, King’s office this year worked with Georgia lawmakers to change the law on use-and-file rate increases. As of July 1, rate hikes cannot take effect for at least 60 days, giving the commissioner’s office more time to review filings.
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