Homeowners across Florida who are up for an insurance policy renewal with the state's insurer of last resort are receiving letters about their roofs.
Anyone with a home 25 years old or older must get an inspection and prove to Citizens Property Insurance Corp. that their roof is expected to last at least three more years.
Robert Brown says he thought he had a few more years to save money to put new roofs on his rental homes. But Citizens told him the roofs must be replaced now, or it won't renew his policies.
"They're forcing people to put on a new roof, even if you have a few years of life left on the roof," Brown said. "This could force a lot of people into foreclosure, if they can't afford the roof and then lose their insurance."
Replacing a roof on a typical home can cost several thousands of dollars.
The relatively new requirement for the roof inspection comes on the heels of another controversial Citizens policy. The company recently said it's raising its rates for sinkhole coverage by 400 to 2,000 percent in some Bay area locations.
When it comes to the roof policy, some customers can't afford a new roof now and say they're letting their insurance lapse, local insurance agents said.
"This couldn't come at a worse time," said Laura Hart, of Florian Insurance Inc. in Hudson. "This is the worst economy most of these people have seen in their lives."
Hart said some customers are angry that their insurance company is taking away their chance to save longer for a new roof.
If an inspector says the roof is damaged, has visible signs of leaking, or if the inspector thinks the roof might not last three years, Citizens wants it repaired or replaced.
Christine Ashburn, spokeswoman for Citizens, said the company wants to make sure it's not covering homes that are vulnerable to hurricanes because of a weak roof.
Ashburn said the three-year lifespan rule is reasonable, and too many homeowners wait too long to replace their roofs.
"Insurance is not a maintenance program and it's important for Citizens to make sure we're not covering homes with roofs in disrepair," Ashburn said. "If we have a deficit after a hurricane, everyone in Florida could be assessed to make up for it."
Ashburn said the company instituted the new roof requirements for some policy holders a year ago, but more homeowners are learning about now, as their policies come up for renewal.
"Tampa may have clusters of older homes, and that may be why more homeowners are complaining about the roof policy now," Ashburn said.
Citizens is Florida's insurer of last resort, meaning many of its policyholders couldn't get coverage through private insurers. So customers can't shop around.
Kirsten Tams-Schleitwiler, of AAA Insurance Agency, in Sun City Center, said she has also had customers say they'll just go without insurance.
That's dangerous for anyone, she said, and not really an option for those with a mortgage. Without insurance, a bank will assign insurance to the property, which is typically triple the cost of a regular policy, she said.
Nathan Dutcher, of Point Residential in Tampa, inspects roofs and said his business is up, mostly because of worried Citizens customers.
Most shingle roofs are advertised to last 25 years, but few do, he said, because of the Florida heat.
"Homeowners are frustrated," Dutcher said. "People don't have too much money for that now, they don't really think about, "hey, I'm going to need a new roof this year or next year.'"
Some homeowners, though, know they'll need a new roof soon, but aren't ready to replace it yet.
That's what happened to Ted Williams in Tampa. He planned to buy a new roof next spring, after he received his tax return.
"My wife got a letter that explained that in order to renew our insurance, the roof had to be replaced," Williams said. "With citizens being the lone insurance choice, it's not fair, but what can I say."
Williams said his roof was about three years old when he moved in 14 years ago. He knew the roof wasn't in good shape, but was still surprised he couldn't wait until spring to replace it.
The roof cost him $6,000.
"We have four kids and are trying to buy school clothes and things," Williams said. "But you can't go without insurance on your home, not when a hurricane could come."