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Governor Newsom Signs Wildfire Legislation to Protect California Consumers and DOI Urges Carriers to Cover Wildfire Property Losses

October 13, 2020

On October 1, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed three bills sponsored by the California Department of Insurance and Commissioner Ricardo Lara to enable future wildfire survivors to recover faster and protect the rights of domestic workers during an emergency.

Senate Bill 872 was introduced on January 21, 2020 by Senator Bill Dodd. The new law will expand the definition of additional living expenses that must be paid to homeowners for losses incurred in a state of emergency and require an advance payment of no less than four months for costs such as housing, furniture rental and transportation. The new law will also mandate an advance payment of no less than 25 percent of the policy limit for lost contents without submission of an inventory form and require insurers to provide homeowners a 60-day grace period for payment of residential premium after an emergency. Additionally, insurers will be barred from deducting the land value from payouts for insureds who build on new lots.

Assembly Bill 2756 was authored by Assemblymembers Monique Limón and Richard Bloom and will provide additional insurance for disaster survivors to rebuild and will require more transparency and a signed acknowledgment when a new policy is sold that does not cover losses from fire. The new law will also lessen the burden on disaster survivors when they rebuild their home by requiring fire policies to include at least 10% of primary dwelling limits (“Coverage A”) as an additional amount available for replacement costs of the policyholder’s structure at the time of loss to help consumers comply with applicable building codes.

Assembly Bill 2658 was authored by Assemblymember Autumn Burke and will protect domestic workers from employer retaliation (such as firing), if they refuse to work in hazardous conditions or emergency situations. These protective measures will prevent an employer from ordering an employee to stay in or enter a mandatory evacuation zone due to wildfires or a local public health order (such as COVID-19).

Thereafter, Commissioner Lara issued a release urging insurance companies to cover wildfire property losses without requiring a home inventory. Specifically, Commissioner Lara requested that insurance companies provide up to 100 percent of personal property coverage limits without a detailed inventory to those who suffered a total loss of their home. The California Department of Insurance made the same requests in prior years in response to wildfires. Policyholders have submitted a plethora of complaints regarding the immense task of documenting every item of personal property that was destroyed by wildfire in order to collect the replacement cost of the items.

While the bills signed by Governor Newsom are not yet in effect, Commissioner Lara urged residential property insurance companies to offer a payment under the contents (personal property) coverage of at least 30% of the policy limit applicable to the covered dwelling structure, up to a maximum of $250,000. Commissioner Lara’s request aligns with the requirements signed into law on September 29, 2020 and outlined by Assembly Bill 3012 authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood.

Commissioner Lara is asking all homeowners’ insurance companies to advise the Department of Insurance by October 23, 2020 regarding their intention to comply with the Notice and the percentage of total contents coverage they intend to provide without requiring a detailed personal property inventory.

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