As Wildfire Risks Increase, Insuring Businesses More Difficult

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Business property coverage is getting more difficult to come by for operations located in areas that are susceptible to wildfires.

The devastating wildfires of the last few years, along with the thousands of homes and businesses that have been burned or damaged due to these events, has resulted in insurers becoming more selective about the properties they are willing to cover. This intense period of yearly wildfires has led to a record $12.8 billion in insurance claims.

As a result, some insurers have started non-renewing commercial property coverage in these high-risk areas – and others have just stopped writing new policies altogether. We are seeing renewals in wildfire-prone areas on a scale we’ve never seen before.

Companies that receive a notification that their insurer plans to non-renew their policies are faced with shopping in a market that is more selective and with insurers requiring that they take certain steps to better safeguard their properties.

What’s going on

More and more homes and businesses in areas susceptible to wildfires are at risk than ever before. The fires are becoming more frequent, hotter and more widespread. Insurers have had to pay out record amounts in fire claims during the last few years, which has taken its toll on many of them.

Some insurers are non-renewing property policies of all sizes in high-risk areas, and the practice has become widespread.

Typically, insurance companies are applying three metrics in evaluating exposure to fire:

  1. Brush mapping – This is a map of the tinder and brush, nearby trees and other natural items that could contribute to your building(s) catching fire. The insurer will use the mapping to see if you are keeping up your property by removing combustible materials from the perimeter and limiting the amount of shrubbery and trees.
  2. The nearby wildland-urban interface – The closer that a building is to wildlands (open spaces with combustible materials), the more likely it is that insurers will balk at writing the policy. A wildland-urban interface is defined by the Forest Services as a place where “humans and their development meet or intermix with wildland fuel.” Communities that are within a half a mile of the zone are included.
  3. Concentration of other properties an insurer covers in your area – If your insurance company already writes policies for many other businesses and homes in your area and they feel they have too much risk concentrated in that zone, they may opt to non-renew policies in order to reduce their exposure.

While we can sometimes work with an insurer to have the property owner clear brush and take measures that would reduce the chances of their property catching fire to satisfy the brush-mapping metric, it’s more difficult to negotiate about numbers two and three.

The options

If you have a business in a wildfire area and your insurer plans not to renew your coverage, and if other companies are not willing to underwrite your policy, we can help you find new coverage. If no admitted insurers (those that are licensed and regulated in California) are willing to cover your building, we have two options:

The non-admitted market – These insurers are not licensed to do business in California, but we can still use them to write policies for businesses. These insurers, which includes Lloyd’s of London, are usually willing to write buildings in higher-risk areas, but they too have increased their underwriting criteria.

The California FAIR Plan – If we are unable to find an insurer in the admitted or non-admitted market, the last choice is FAIR Plan, which is the state-run market of last resort for homeowners and commercial property owners that cannot get coverage in the regular market. Commercial policies are available for:

  • Buildings with five or more habitational units (e.g. apartment buildings, hotels, motels, or home-sharing services such as Airbnb)
  • Retail mercantile
  • Manufacturing risks
  • Office buildings
  • Residential or commercial buildings under course of construction.

Policies cover losses from fire, lightning, and explosion only. Also, policies are limited in what they will pay out, so if you have millions of dollars tied up in equipment and/or inventory, the policy may not be enough to cover all the damage you incur from a wildfire.

The maximum limit for commercial properties is $3 million for structures and $1.5 million for all other coverages, for a combined $4.5 million limit for all commercial properties at one location. But there are some exceptions.

What we can do if you go to the FAIR Plan

If the FAIR Plan coverage is not enough coverage or falls short, we can find another insurer that provides excess coverage that would kick in at a certain dollar amount of damage.

And for the aforementioned risks that are not covered, we would have to also find you a “differences in conditions” policy. Combined with FAIR Plan coverage, adding such a policy can nearly mimic the coverage of a commercial or homeowner’s policy.


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