Sinkhole repair to be mandatory in Florida?

Change would apply to claims filed after July 1

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Too many homeowners are taking the money and running after settling a claim for sinkhole damage with the state-run Citizens Insurance. But the checks for damage may soon no longer be in the mail.

For every dollar Citizens Insurance takes in for sinkhole coverage, it pays out $4 in damage claims. Even then, many homes are left un-repaired, sold and sold again to unsuspecting buyers.

But not for much longer if state Rep. Jake Rayburn gets his way.

"We're going to fix the sinkhole, and not be left in a situation where potentially someone could get a check and then walk away from the home," said Rayburn, R-Hillsborough.

New Port Richey real estate agent Greg Armstrong said whole neighborhoods suffer when damage isn't fixed.

"Today I see so many homes that are un-repaired; It's driving our property values down," said Armstrong. "We're also significantly hurting people."

The legislation allows Citizens to get homeowners a list of approved contractors. They'll have 90 days to pick one but they won't see a check, as it will go right to the contractor.

Suzanne Winfield told lawmakers she didn't know what to do when she had sinkhole damage. Her friends suggested a public adjuster. By the time the fees and expenses were paid, her $160,000 settlement was down to just $70,000.

"Not enough to put anything under the ground to stabilize it, barely enough to do the cosmetic repairs," said Winfield.

Everyone agrees the legislation won't change the 4-1 loss ratio for Citizens, but the insurer of last resort said at least damage will get fixed.

"We tried to write checks. It didn't work," said Christine Ashburn, of Citizens Insurance. "Homes weren't getting repaired. We want to fix homes."

The change would apply to claims filed after July 1.

The legislation also allows policyholders to buy lower deductible policies. Right now only a 10 percent deductible is offered. If the legislation becomes law, 2 percent and 5 percent deductibles would also be offered.

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