Insurance Companies Agree to Extend Time for 2017 Wildfire Survivors to Access Additional Living Expense Benefits Past Two-Year Cutoff
26 companies representing a majority of 2017 wildfire survivors respond to Commissioner Lara’s request to extend remaining benefits
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — 26 insurance companies have agreed to extend the time limits for 2017 wildfire survivors to access additional living expense benefits after Commissioner Ricardo Lara appealed to them to stand by their customers who are still in the process of rebuilding their homes. These companies represent a majority of the total losses from the devastating 2017 wildfires that struck Santa Rosa and other parts of Northern California.
With only approximately 20 percent of homes rebuilt today, many survivors have faced unavoidable delays due to the scale of destruction and construction labor shortages. Commissioner Lara approached insurance companies to honor the spirit of a new state law passed in the wake of the deadly 2017 fires by extending additional living expense, or ALE benefits, from 24 to 36 months.
“Two years is clearly not enough time for people to get back on their feet in a disaster of this magnitude,” said Commissioner Lara. “The voluntary action by 26 insurance companies to extend additional living expense time limits is a step that will bring relief to those with benefits remaining while they continue to rebuild.”
ALE coverage typically includes additional food and housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage, and extra transportation expenses, among other reimbursable costs. ALE benefits differ by insurance company. Some plans have a set dollar limit, some have a time limit, and others have no limits. Policyholders should contact their insurance company or the Department of Insurance at (800) 927-4357 to determine if they have remaining ALE benefits.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic 2017 wildfires, the Department, California State Legislature, and Governor recognized that 24 months does not provide sufficient time to remove debris, obtain all necessary building permits, locate and hire a contractor and multiple subcontractors, and completely rebuild destroyed homes. The extraordinary circumstances of the 2017 fires still persist today with many consumers remaining in limbo due to these circumstances beyond their control.
The passage of Senate Bill 894 (Dodd and McGuire, Chapter 618, Statutes of 2018 ), Assembly Bill 1772 (Aguiar-Curry and Wood, Chapter 627, Statutes of 2018), and Assembly Bill 1800 (Levine, Chapter 628, Statutes of 2018) increased the 24-month mandatory ALE coverage period to a minimum of 36 months if a policyholder acting in good faith and with reasonable diligence encounters delays in the reconstruction process of their home.
Commissioner Lara first made the request to insurance companies to voluntarily extend ALE benefits in May at a meeting with Sonoma County fire survivors, and he renewed it in a September letter to survivors as the two-year anniversary of the deadly blazes approached. To date, the Department of Insurance has helped more than 1,000 people obtain $100 million in benefits related to the 2017 Sonoma County fires.
“I urge policyholders who lost access to ALE benefits to contact my Department for further assistance, including if they believe their insurance company played any role in causing a delay,” said Commissioner Lara.
An example of a delay includes an insurance company taking an extensive amount of time before approving a contractor’s final estimate for rebuilding.
Different residential property insurance companies have different levels of coverage for Additional Living Expenses. Some insurers have a dollar limit for ALE. In those cases (for the insurers that agreed to extend the ALE time), if the insured still has ALE coverage limits, the insurers have agreed to extend the period that the insured may collect ALE as long as there are coverage limits available. Other insurers have no dollar coverage limit. In those cases (for the insurers that agreed to extend the ALE time), the insurers have agreed to extend the period that the insured may collect ALE with no coverage limit. Consumers should check their policy to determine the type of ALE coverage available and contact the Department of Insurance at (800) 927-4357 if they have questions about their coverage.
Not all residential property insurance companies reported total loss claims from the 2017 wildfires. The Department of Insurance data only reflects responses from those insurance companies that reported total loss claims from the 2017 wildfires. If a homeowner suffered a total loss from the 2017 wildfires and their insurance company or insurance group is not listed above, they should contact their insurance company to determine whether their insurer will agree to Commissioner Lara’s request.
The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $310 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $469 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance website at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.4357. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.