Mobile home owners struggle to find insurance in Florida’s ‘dysfunctional’ market

Mobile home owners struggle to find insurance in Florida’s ‘dysfunctional’ market

ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – The problems at Peggy Childress’ garage began in May when a tree from the vacant lot next door crashed through their carport, the first damage she or her husband, Mike, could remember in 15 years of living there lived

Having the tree removed cost $600, all the money they had in savings. “It wiped us out,” said Childress, 61.

Then Hurricane Ian tore their roof off.

“It was like it was raining inside,” Childress said. Chambers filled with water, then form.

Childress said she got estimates of more than $22,000 for repairs, “more than this place is worth.”

As is the case with many Florida manufactured and mobile home owners, the Childresses do not have home insurance, so they will have to cover the full cost of repairs themselves one way or another.

“Homeowners insurance is an ongoing challenge for the industry,” said Jim Ayotte, executive director of the Florida Manufactured Housing Association. “The market is dysfunctional, and homeowners struggle to find coverage that is affordable.”

There are about 822,000 manufactured and mobile homes in Florida today, according to the Census Bureau, nearly 10% of the total supply of homes.

In 2018, only 260,127 manufactured homes were insured, according to information from the Office of Insurance Regulation. The agency did not return a request for updated information.

Only 1,732 manufactured and mobile homes in Florida carry flood insurance, according to the federal Office of Emergency Management.

Childress said none of the neighbors she spoke to had insurance on their homes. When she tried to buy it for her home, she said most insurance companies simply said no.

“You can’t even get like a type of renter’s insurance to cover your belongings,” she said.

Childress said the one policy she was offered was too expensive for her and her husband, who are both on Social Security.

A mobile home is any manufactured home built before a 1976 Housing and Urban Development Act changed building standards. More than 300,000 mobile homes that were not required to make those upgrades are still in use in Florida, according to a study by the International Hurricane Research Center.

Childress’ home was built in 1970, according to property records.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew wiped out 90% of the mobile and manufactured homes in Dade County, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then HUD passed new standards on manufactured homes in Florida, requiring improvements to withstand hurricane force winds.

But more than 600,000 homes are ahead of the new requirements, according to the IHRC.

Childress, who said she couldn’t afford the upgrades, says she was even turned down for a policy from state-owned Citizens Property Insurance, the property insurer of last resort.

“Even the insurer of last resort is not a guaranteed insurer” for mobile homes, said Laura Wagner, executive director of Floridians for Honest Lending.

Wagner’s organization, typically a watchdog for predatory lending, became involved in insurance advocacy when its employees began hearing about homeowners — manufactured and otherwise — being foreclosed on for lack of insurance.

“What we’re seeing is people being denied for older roofs, for older water heaters, for older electric,” she said. “The list is now big.”

A homeowner does not have to carry insurance if they do not have a mortgage on the property.

But mortgage lenders will not finance a home purchase without proof of insurance on the property. As the crisis in Florida’s home insurance market has closed or forced insurance companies in the state, Wagner says finding insurance even for newer manufactured homes has become more of a problem.

“Anytime you have a contraction in the market, you’re going to have those homeowners struggling to get new insurance,” she said.

Even when a manufactured home can get insurance, it often won’t cover the full replacement of the home, Ayotte says. He says he has spoken to lenders who refuse to provide financing because the difference between coverage and cost is too great.

Ayotte said his organization is working with Citizens and others in government to find a solution. “The more our policymakers understand that insurance is too expensive and a lot of people just don’t do it, maybe they’ll pay more attention,” he said.

Childress does not have a bond. What she has is mold, no roof and no one to help. They have sealed the leaks in their ceiling and are doing what repairs they can as they go.

“Eventually, we’ll take care of things, with or without help,” she said.

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