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Mold Legal Guide
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in mold lawsuits.
Mold in houses
causes new headaches
homeowners insurance will ensure one thing -- confusion. By
Shonda Novak, Austin American-Statesman
For consumers, the chore of shopping for homeowners insurance is going to
get more complicated.
of changes in the most common Texas homeowners policy, prompted by soaring
claims for mold damage, consumers likely will have to shop around more for
the best price and coverage. And they're likely to pay more for less
coverage. Although insurance industry officials say the changes will
foster competition and increase options for homeowners, consumer advocates
who wants to be a good consumer and shop around, it's going to be almost
impossible to compare apples and apples," said Dan Lambe, executive
director of Texas Watch, a consumer research and advocacy group.
"Everybody's going to have a different policy, a little different
spokesman Justin Schmitt agreed that consumers are going to have to become
savvier. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing because they'll have
options. Agents can help them make choices."
of the first challenges is understanding the different types of policies
offered and how they have changed.
insurance companies are discontinuing the most popular policy, the HO-B.
Until now, 96 percent of Texas homeowners have bought a comprehensive HO-B
policy, which covers most kinds of calamities, from lightning and hail to
theft and explosions. It also covered water and mold-related damage,
including expensive testing and decontamination procedures.
as the number and cost of mold damage claims soared last year, some
insurers began to restrict or end sales of new HO-B policies and raise
premiums steeply on renewals.
offered only the cheaper and less comprehensive HO-A policy, which covers
water and mold damage only when caused by wind or hail.
companies said soaring costs gave them no alternative. Farmers Insurance
Exchange, the state's second-largest home insurer, said it expected to
lose $300 million last year on claims for water and mold damage claims.
also complained that Texas required them to offer more extensive
water-damage coverage than any other state. The state mandates the types
of coverage, but amounts are up to homeowners.
November, Insurance Commissioner José Montemayor, seeking to avoid a
crisis in insurance affordability and availability, approved changes in
coverage mandates and opened the door to companies offering variations on
HO-B policies cover only the immediate damage caused by a sudden or
accidental water leak or discharge.
homeowners must report such leaks to their insurance company within 30
days after they discover them, or should have discovered them. Homeowners
who are not vigilant about maintenance may have their claims denied.
the new rules, homeowners can buy additional mold damage coverage in
varying amounts, up to the coverage limit of their policies.
some insurance companies are introducing, with Insurance Department
approval, beefed-up versions of their bare-bones HO-A policies at
enhanced HO-A policy, for example, includes limited coverage for water
damage not covered under its basic HO-A policy.
Corp. will offer an expanded HO-A Plus policy that caps coverage for mold
removal at $5,000 to new customers, effective Monday. Starting in March,
Allstate will offer the Plus policy to homeowners who renew. It will no
longer offer its HO-B policy.
vary by customer, but Allstate anticipates its expanded HO-A policy will
cost an average of 20 percent less than its existing HO-B policy and about
16 percent more than its basic HO-A. State Farm Insurance Co., the largest
insurer, plans to seek approval for three policy variations next month.
growing number of options complicates the task of shopping for insurance.
starters, Montemayor cautions people not to cancel their current policies
until they have another one in hand. They also should be aware that
insurance companies may cancel newly issued policies in the first 90 days
for virtually any reason, except illegal discrimination. If a consumer
cancels a policy to buy another one, the previous insurer must refund the
unused portion of the premium.
homeowner doesn't want any gap in coverage, and with insurers looking
carefully at a homeowner's past claims, some companies are reluctant to
add new policyholders who have had any water problems," Montemayor
with the new limits in HO-B policies, "B is still what you should be
looking for if you can afford it," said Rod Bordelon of the state
Office of Public Insurance Counsel. The public counsel, an arm of the
Insurance Department, represents consumers interests.
that, consumers will have to read the fine print to discern the
differences in policies.
the old system, you knew what you were getting," said Lambe of Texas
Watch. "Now, with the endorsements, the opt-outs, the opt-ins, you
can't just go on price anymore," he said. "And unfortunately,
the lowest-priced coverage, more often than not, is going to be the
coverage that has the most holes in it, leaving homeowners more
down with your agent periodically is a good idea anyway -- especially now,
said Rick Gentry, executive director of the Insurance Council of Texas, a
said information is available to help homeowners sort out the changes
through their agents, the Insurance Department and other sources.
are smart," Gentry said. "They know how to shop and evaluate.
Why do you think they drive across town and go to Sam's Club? Because they
know they can get a bargain."
www.tdi.state.tx.us is the Texas Department of Insurance home page. Links
related to homeowners insurance include:
* For general insurance questions, consumers may call the department's
consumer line at 463-6515 in Austin or (800) 252-3439.
* Help also is available from the Office of Public Insurance Counsel,
* To file an insurance-related complaint:
By e-mail: ConsumerProtection@tdi.state.tx.us
By fax: 475-1771
By mail: Texas Department of Insurance Consumer Protection (111-1A) P.O.
Box 149091 Austin, TX 78714-9091
Shopping for a
* Rates vary
widely. Call several companies to get quotes. The Department of Insurance
publishes a rate guide that can help. Call (800) 599-SHOP (7467).
* It's important
to buy from a licensed company. Licensed companies belong to the Texas
Property and Casualty Guaranty Association. The association pays claims up
to $300,000 if your insurer is unable to pay. If your company isn't
licensed, your claim could go unpaid.
Learn the 25 steps for safe and effective
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