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

ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – Trouble at Peggy Childress’ mobile home began in May when a tree from a neighboring vacant lot fell through their parking lot, the first damage her husband Mike remembered in 15 years.

After removing the tree, $600 was spent, which was all they had in their savings. “It destroyed us,” Childress, 61, said.

Then Hurricane Ian blew their roof off.

“It was like it was raining inside,” Childress said. Fill the chambers with water, then mold.

Childress said she spent more than $22,000 on renovations, “more expensive than this place.”

Like many owners of manufactured and mobile homes in Florida, the Childresses don’t have home insurance, so they have to pay for all the repairs themselves.

“Homeowner’s insurance is an ongoing challenge for the industry,” said Jim Ayotte, executive director of the Florida Manufactured Homes Association. “The market is dysfunctional and homeowners are struggling to find affordable coverage.”

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According to the Census Bureau, there are about 822,000 manufactured and mobile homes in Florida today, nearly 10 percent of the total housing supply.

In 2018, only 260 thousand 127 houses were insured by the Insurance Regulatory Authority. The agency did not return requests for updated information.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, only 1,732 manufactured and mobile homes in Florida are covered by flood insurance.

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

“You can’t get renters insurance to cover your belongings,” he said.

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

A mobile home is any home built before the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1976 changed building standards. According to a study by the International Hurricane Center, there are more than 300,000 mobile homes in use in Florida that do not require these upgrades.

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Property records say the children’s home was built in 1970.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed 90 percent of Dade County’s mobile and manufactured homes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. After that, HUD introduced new standards for manufactured homes in Florida, requiring improvements to withstand hurricane force.

But more than 600,000 homes were before the new requirements, according to the IHRC.

Childress, who said she couldn’t afford the upgrades, said she was turned away by a policy from her last-tier property insurer, Citizens Property Insurance.

“Even the most recent insurer is not a guaranteed mobile home insurer,” said Laura Wagner, executive director of Floridians for Fair Credit.

Wagner’s organization often oversaw predatory lending and became involved in insurance advocacy when his employees began hearing from homeowners (manufactured and otherwise) who were in foreclosure because they didn’t have insurance.

“What we’re seeing is people getting rid of old roofs, old water heaters, old electrical,” he said. “The list is huge now.”

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Homeowners are not required to have insurance unless they have a lien on the property.

But mortgage lenders won’t finance a home purchase without homeowner’s insurance. Finding insurance for new manufactured homes has become more of a problem as Florida’s depressed home insurance market has forced insurance companies in the state to close or foreclose, Wagner said.

“Any time your market shrinks, you’re going to have homeowners struggling to find new insurance,” he said.

Even if a manufactured home is covered by insurance, it won’t cover the cost of a complete home replacement, Ayotte said. He said he has talked to lenders who have refused financing because the insurance and cost differentials are too high.

Ayotte said his organization is working with Citizens and others in government to find a solution. “The more our policymakers realize that insurance is too expensive and that more people aren’t getting it,” he said.

Childress has no mortgage. What he has has no mold, no roof, and no help. They are sealing holes in their ceilings and making repairs as best they can.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to take care of everything, with or without help,” he said.


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