By Richard Hunter / Published July 2023
This past November Florida saw Hurricane Ian ravage Collier County, Fort Myers, and the barrier islands: Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine Islands. Tragically, Sanibel and Captiva Islands were completely cut off from access to the mainland when Hurricane Ian also destroyed part of the Sanibel Causeway where 6,400 people normally live. As a result, the insurance market was once again thrown into turmoil.
Following on the heels of Hurricane Ian, in December 2023, the Florida legislature conducted a special session and enacted historic changes in the property and casualty insurance market in Florida, which modified Florida Statute 627.428(4) by removing the right to recover attorney’s fees if an insured prevails against its insurance carrier. Specially, the added provision states:
(4) n a suit arising under a residential or commercial property insurance policy, there is no right to attorney fees under this section.
Moving forward, if a residential homeowner or condominium association is forced to file suit against their property insurance company, the insured will no longer have the right to recover attorney’s fees under the Florida Statute. The removal of the right to attorney’s fees makes a condominium board’s preparations that much more important. Therefore, condominium association boards must be vigilant in insuring proper property insurance coverage for condominium association property.
Given the foregoing dynamic, competent public adjusting firms will become more important in trying to assist condominium boards in attempting to resolve property insurance disputes without being forced to retain legal services.
As such, every year a condominium board must engage in reviewing their property and casualty insurance and flood policies and ensuring that the board maintains proper coverage. Many times, an insurance company will change the coverage within a given policy when it comes up for renewal. Per Florida Statute 627.43141, an insurance company presenting a renewal policy must provide a Notice of Change in Policy Terms. Specifically, Florida defines a “Change in policy terms” as the following:
means the modification, addition, or deletion of any term, coverage, duty, or condition from the previous policy. The correction of typographical or scrivener’s errors or the application of mandated legislative changes is not a change in policy terms.
Furthermore, Florida law describes a “renewal” as what follows:
Renewal means the issuance and delivery by an insurer of a policy superseding at the end of the policy period a policy previously issued and delivered by the same insurer or the issuance and delivery of a certificate or notice extending the term of a policy beyond its policy period or term. Any policy that has a policy period or term of less than 6 months or that does not have a fixed expiration date shall, for purposes of this section, be considered as written for successive policy periods or terms of 6 months.
And, Florida law states the following about a renewal policy:
may contain a change in policy terms. If a renewal policy does contain such change, the insurer must give the named insured written notice of the change, which must be enclosed along with the written notice of renewal premium required by
§§ 627.4133 and 627.728. Such notice shall be entitled “Notice of Change in Policy Terms.”
In summary, this means that every time a condomin-ium board receives a renewal policy from year to year, the insurance carrier is likely to have included a form entitled “Notice of Change in Policy Terms.” If the condominium board does not review this “Notice” carefully, it is possible that the condominium board will not really notice that changes have been made to the renewal policy.
In conjunction with the yearly review of renewal policies, we recommend that condominium association boards maintain a relationship with a competent public adjusting company that may also provide pre-disaster inspections/cataloguing of property conditions. Pre- and post-disaster checklists and catalogues that are kept in a safe place allow condominium boards to quickly move forward with insurance claims and reduce the need for potential litigation.
Many condominium boards should consider the organization of a “disaster task force,” which may be made up of members of the board/residents who have identified themselves as representatives to manage preparedness and post-loss recovery.
Many public adjusting firms maintain relationships with professionals to assist in post-loss recovery (EMS providers and restoration contractors) that are able to mobilize quickly after a disaster to ensure that the road to recovery also moves along quickly.
We recommend that condominium boards attempt to have one meeting a year that discusses disaster preparedness, or keep disaster preparedness documents on the condominium website where the other documents are kept for the association; and we recommend that all residents maintain the necessary emergency contact information in a safe place, with any evacuation plans or maps with local resources to aid in the event the property is uninhabitable (disaster shelters, short-term rentals, etc.)
For purposes of any later rebuild, regular review of association account balances (in some instances, assessments to residents may be necessary in order to prop-erly restore property, even after securing insurance settlement funds) is definitely prudent to determine if the association reserves are sufficient to assist in rebuilding.
This year Colorado State University shares the first predictions for the 2023 hurricane season as follows:
We all hope for smooth sailing this year, but in the event Florida endures another heavy hurricane season, Hunter Claims Public Adjusters are here to assist you in all your post-disaster insurance needs.
Principal Adjuster, Hunter Claims
Richard Hunter is a principal adjuster with Hunter Claims. If you or the board of your association would like a professional analysis of your coverage or a pre-storm evaluation of your property, call 813-774-7634 or send an email to email@example.com today.