Farmers pulls out of Florida property insurance despite efforts to stabilize the market

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Farmers Insurance became the latest property insurance company to pull out of Florida on Tuesday despite repeated efforts by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature have made to try to calm the volatile market that is making homeownership less affordable.

Farmers informed the state that it is discontinuing new coverage of auto, home and umbrella policies. The company said in a statement that the decision affects policies issued through its “exclusive agency distribution channel.” It said there will be no effect on 70% of current policies in Florida.

Critics of DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, say he has focused too much effort on divisive cultural issues and not enough on making housing and insurance more affordable. The Legislature has grappled with the issue each of the last two years, including a special session in December.

Most of the focus has been on shielding insurance companies from lawsuits and setting aside money for re-insurance to help protect insurers. The Office of Insurance Regulation sent a letter to Farmers responding to the notice that it doesn't plan to write new policies.

“Florida's leaders have stepped up to the plate by delivering historic reforms to Florida's property insurance market to ensure competitiveness and increase consumer choice,” Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky wrote to the company.

Yaworsky noted, though, that state's recent law changes weren't a factor in Farmer's decision.

“We are disappointed by the hastiness in this decision and troubled by how this decision may have cascading impacts to policyholders,” he wrote.

Farmers said in a statement that the decision was based on risk exposure in the hurricane-prone state and that notifications will be sent out to affected policyholders along with advice on replacing coverage. The company's website on Tuesday responded to quote requests for several Florida zip codes by saying coverage wasn't available and suggesting links to other companies and resources.

At the end of 2022, average annual property insurance premiums had risen to more than $4,200 in Florida, which is triple the national average. About 12% of homeowners in the state didn’t have property insurance, compared with the national average of 5%, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a research organization funded by the insurance industry. At least six insurers went insolvent in Florida last year.

Florida has struggled to keep the insurance market healthy since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew flattened Homestead, wiped out some insurance carriers and left many remaining companies fearful to write or renew policies in Florida. Risks for carriers have also been growing as climate change increases the strength of hurricanes and the intensity of rainstorms.